January 2011

New York, NY – When the New York Rangers acquired winger Wojtek Wolski; it was for his nose to the net. Well that instinct paid off for the Rangers as Wolski and keeper Henrik Lundqvist helped to lead the Rangers (26-16-3) 1-0 victory over Vancouver (28-9-6) in hockey action on Thursday night.

“We played incredible, Wolski said after the game. “The whole team played awesome. It was good for me to get my first goal and it was amazing we got a shutout.” The winger would continue by saying. “It was exciting. The fans, our team and our coaching staff were involved putting the effort into it. We are excited to get the win.”

In what was a playoff type atmosphere at Madison Square Garden as the 18,200 fans in attendance rocked the Garden early and often the Canucks set the pace early, putting the pedal to the medal on offense. They started to bombard Rangers keeper Lundqvist early as Christian Ehrhoff tried for a 27 foot slap shot at the 1:37 mark, which was stoned by the Blueshirts keeper.

New York was able to get a good opportunity at the 5:19 mark in that frame when Mats Zuccarello tried for a 44 foot wrister, which was saved by Canucks keeper Cory Schneider. Vancouver would then regain their offensive pace as Jannik Hansen tried for a 40 foot wrister at the 10:42 mark, but that shot was denied by Lundqvist.

Both teams would have good offensive opportunities, but neither would be able to score as they would go into the locker room scoreless after the first period of play. In spite of some solid play the Blueshirts were out shot by the Canucks by a tally of 11-8.

The Blueshirts struck on their first and only goal of the game in the second period of play. That Rangers goal was tallied on their second power play opportunity. The penalty occurred at the 6:49 mark when Canucks center Manny Malhotra was sent to the sin bin for two minutes for hooking Rangers center Artem Anisimov.

Wojtec Wolski (7) would then strike for his first goal in a Rangers uniform at the 7:18 mark; he would drive his way to the net and tally a nine foot wrister which was set up by Marian Gaborik (13) and Brandon Dubinsky (21) to give the Blueshirts the 1-0 lead.

“I went hard into the net and was able to find that puck for my first goal,” Wolski said. “I will take them however I can get them. I don’t care how pretty they are. It helps that we won. I am excited.”

On playing with Gaborik he had this to say to NY Sports Day, “He is a great player. Every time he is out there, he is a threat. He pushes the defense back. He really makes sure that every time he is out there, they notice them.

Vancouver would have a golden opportunity to strike for their first goal, as at the 14:53 mark Marc Staal was sent to serve a two minute penalty for tripping Canucks winger Alex Burrows. Then Vancouver would have a 5-on-3 opportunity as at the 16:06 mark Chris Drury had to serve a 2:00 delay of game penalty.

In spite of the advantage Vancouver would not be able to get on the board, due to some excellent defense. That defense was led by Brian Boyle who blocked two shots during that time, which would keep the Canucks off the board.  Thanks to that unselfish play the Blueshirts were able to hold on to their lead, while also gaining the shots advantage by a tally of 24-20.

“I was saying to Brandon Dubinsky, ‘that was a lot of fun to get a kill like that.’ You get back to the bench and everyone is involved and patting you on the back. I was happy to be a part of that,” Brian Boyle would say on the penalty kill.

Lundqvist would take the game from there continuing his stellar play in the third period of play. Vancouver would not back down without a fight as they would continue to try to press the offensive momentum. Starting at the 2:21 mark when Keith Ballard would try for a 46 foot shot that would be denied by the Blueshirts keeper.

One of the more impressive saves for the Swedish keeper was at the 13:46 mark, as he stopped a Ryan Kesler 22 foot wrister. Kesler, who at the time was falling to the ice, was still somehow able to put off a good shot. In spite of that effort Lundqvist would be better.

“I think we definitely played the way we had to play to win this game,” said Lundqvist. “Penalty kill came up big-they were huge for us in the second period. We played really smart in the third period. The last couple of minutes they came really hard but you have to respect that.”

The Blueshirts keeper would finish the night the games number one star making 31 saves in his sixth shutout of the season. The keeper was also able to match his uniform number as he now has 30 shutouts in his career.

“30 is a good number. Hopefully I can keep it going a little bit longer,” Lundqvist would say of the number of shutouts in his career. “Every shutout is important. This was a good win to come back and answer with. It is so important to respond with two points. This helps us in the standings.”

New York will now go on the road for a Saturday night 7:00 p.m. face-off with the Montreal Canadiens. This is the second time this week that these two will play each other, as the Rangers look to avenge a 2-1 loss that the Habs handed to them on Tuesday night, where you can find more information at Hockey Betting Odds at BetUS Sportsbook.

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Give the New York Rangers credit. Unlike their loquacious NFL cousins and their ubiquitous head football coach, the Blueshirts strove to downplay their Thursday night matchup with the current kings of the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks.

To a man, the Rangers were quick to point out that Vancouver (14-0-3 in their last 17 games) was not a barometer or measuring stick game. It was a point that Coach John Tortorella hammered home while to talking to the media prior to the game.

“You know what? I’ve had 10 people ask me that. Is this a barometer game, a test game? I don’t look at it that way. We know they’re a really good team. We feel we’re a good team. We want to get back to winning a hockey game after losing the other night,” Rick Carpiniello reported in his Journal News Blog.

“We’re trying to be a better team tonight. We’re going to have to be. You have to respect them. They’re a very good club, but we’re going to play, and we’ll see what happens after 60 minutes.”

Interestingly enough, it was the second time that Tortorella would be wrong during the night.

Tortorella expressed his belief that the Rangers could not win a 1-0 game and that his team needed to find ways to score more goals against the Canucks.

The coach and his team were at the top of their game by practicing “PC sports talk” in trying to downplay whether or not the Canucks game was a barometer game.

When you are as inconsistent a franchise as the Rangers have been during the past decade or so, every game becomes a barometer game.

When you take on teams at the bottom of the standings you have to seize the opportunity afforded you and ice away the two points.

When you are facing teams that are at your own level in the standings, you have to take advantage of the chance to either put some distance on teams that are behind you or look to close the gaps on the teams that are just ahead of you.

When you step up in class and face the elite teams, you have to prove that you are prepared to do whatever it takes to show that not only can you play with the big boys – you can beat them as well.

It is that last idea that has been the calling card for the Rangers this season. Larry Brooks probably came up with the best description of the 2010/2011 Rangers in his NY Post game story on the Canucks game. Brooks referred to the Rangers as the “Black-and-Blueshirts”.

It is an obvious reference to black and blues and aches and pains and even broken bones the Rangers have sacrificed this season as they sacrifice their bodies in the name of blocking shots.

It is also a reference to the lunch pail attitude the Rangers have employed this season. You hear fans talk about the same thing – whether it is in online blogs or in conversations at the Garden. This edition of the Rangers is a fun team to watch.

A lot of the fans reaction has to do with the infusion of youth on the team and the addition of muckers like Brandon Prust who squeeze every last ounce of every shift.

While it is a risky proposition to continue to play one-goal games, these are some of the reasons why the Rangers do have the ability to win 1-0 games, especially when Henrik Lundqvist is at the top of his game.

Granted, there have been a couple of times when the “Black-and-Blueshirts” effort level was not there. Over an 82 game schedule it does happen. After all, how many of us can admit that they give 100% one-hundred percent of the time at work?

Unlike past seasons, thankfully, that has been the exception rather than the rule. Even when healthy, the Rangers do not have enough talent to win on talent alone. They realize that playing hard and doing the little things is just as important – and sometimes even more important – than having the most talent.

Tortorella summed up this attitude following the game.

“The thing I like about it is that everybody contributes in all the little things. I think that’s what’s helping us in those types of games, just the little things, the little battles. Like I said before, I think we’re a good team and more importantly, the players need to think we’re a good team and not worry about who we’re playing, or whether you think it’s stacked against you, and go play your game,” Carpiniello reported.

“We played harder tonight than the Montreal game. I don’t think we played bad (against) Montreal, but tonight was just a grittier effort. Especially after the first period, when I thought we turned it up. So it’s growing. It’s just growing as a team.”

As Ranger fans, it is always our habit to dwell on the doom and gloom when things are going bad and then put the cart before the horse when things are going good. In this case, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it might be leading to a nice run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If the hockey gods align the stars properly, the return of Ryan Callahan and the first appearance of Vinny Prospal will be what the doctor ordered in terms of reviving the Rangers sluggish offense.

In addition, the Rangers are positioned well to be buyers are the trade deadline. Incredibly, Glen Sather has seemed to find a way to move the Rangers away from salary cap hell – a task that Devils President/GM Lou Lamoriello has failed miserably at.

While it would be nice to add the playmaking and offensive abilities of a Brad Richards, the Rangers have to weigh the costs in terms of prospects and/or draft picks given up against the salary cap space the team would lose in having to re-sign Richards. With the likes of Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, Dale Weise, Matt Gilroy and Michael Sauer all set to become RFAs during the summer, Sather needs to keep his financial options.

The Rangers might be better off looking to fine tune certain parts of their team and look to make smaller deals more in step with the Wolski-Rozsival trade as opposed to swinging for the fences and looking to make a blockbuster deal.

With 27-year-old Steve Eminger (set to be UFA this summer) as the old man on the blue line, the Rangers could use a physical veteran presence on defense – especially one with an expiring contract.

While the Rangers have depth at center, the one thing they do lack is a faceoff specialist. While the Seven Million Dollar Man (aka Chris Drury) is supposed to be such a player, the remaining centers have left a lot to be desired when it comes to faceoffs.

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