NEW YORK --Not that his 4-month-old son Dalton is going to recall any of it, but he'll always be able to say his dad delivered a shutout in the first game he ever saw him play.
Backup goaltender Steve Valiquette wasn't tested often in his first start of the season, but he was brilliant when it counted, stopping all 18 shots he faced as the New York Rangers blanked the Anaheim Ducks 3-0 at Madison Square Garden for their fourth straight victory. It was Valiquette's fourth career shutout, but his first since becoming a father before this season.
"It was extra special tonight," Valiquette said of playing in front of his newborn for the first time. "He's not going to remember much of the night, obviously, but I wanted to have a strong showing certainly for him and I wanted to win the hockey game for him."
The 32-year-old from Etobicoke, Ontario, had to wait until there were 7 minutes left in the first period before he could make his first save for Dalton. It would be the only shot he'd see in the period from the Ducks, but Valiquette wasn't going to complain about the lack of activity.
"I'd rather just get out of the first period with a 0-0 tie or the lead," Valiquette said. "I don't really concern myself with getting warm because my performance isn't that important as far as if I stop 10 shots or I have 12 shots and two go in.
"What I am really focused on is giving my team a chance to win. It sounds cliché but is really the way we have to think."
"Valley made some big saves at some key times," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "He played very well. He goes about his business. He's kind of a forgotten man. If we want to get where we want to be, he is going to have to play well for us and he certainly played well for us tonight.
For two scoreless periods, it looked as though the Rangers weren't going to solve the goaltender on the other end of the ice, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. The Ducks were playing their second game in less than 24 hours, and they looked sluggish against the rested Rangers, forcing Giguere to hold the fort for two periods.
The Rangers finally broke through early in the third period on a power-play goal by Ales Kotalik, his third of the season.
Sean Avery, making his own season debut after missing the first four games with a knee injury, drew a roughing penalty on Ducks defenseman Ryan Whitney. With the man-advantage, Kotalik ripped a one-timer that deflected off Ducks defenseman Scott Niedermayer and fluttered past a helpless Giguere to break the scoreless tie.
It was a testament to the Rangers' ability to stick with the game plan despite two frustrating periods that saw scoring chance after scoring chance either be stopped by Giguere or ricochet off a post or crossbar. The Rangers drew iron three times during the game.
"We knew they had a game yesterday, so we were pressing," Kotalik said. "We were hitting crossbars, posts. We stayed with it, stayed patient and we knew we have the strength and conditioning to win it in the third period."
"I think the biggest thing is that you can't get frustrated," Tortorella agreed. "You just have to stay the course. They played the other night and they came back and played a 5 o'clock game. When that happens, you need to try to take advantage of it. I felt like we did a good job of constant pressure and making them play 200 feet."
"Valley made some big saves at some key times. He played very well. He goes about his business. He's kind of a forgotten man. If we want to get where we want to be, he is going to have to play well for us and he certainly played well for us tonight."
-- Rangers coach John Tortorella
Avery had a shade under 11 minutes of ice time in his season debut, but he made the most of them before slipping out after the game without talking to the media. Besides drawing the key penalty that led to the winning goal, he had a secondary assist on Rangers' second goal -- the first of Artem Anisimov's NHL career -- to salt away the game later in the third period.
"I don't know how many minutes he played, but he played well," Tortorella said of Avery. "He forechecked. He was effective. He ended up on the power-play goal and he was effective there. Little by little, I am sure he wants more."
For the Ducks, the loss caps a successful four-game road trip through Minnesota, Boston, Philadelphia and here that saw them go 2-1-1. Coach Randy Carlyle conceded that his team's come-from-behind victory against the Flyers on Saturday night had an effect Sunday.
"We didn't have much energy to start the game," Carlyle said. "I thought we played well for 10 or 12 minutes in the second and we started to get through that, but we ran into penalty problems and it took the momentum away from us.
"We played last night and had an emotional comeback, and it's hard to recapture that."
One of the Ducks' best chances came off the stick of Todd Marchant in the second period. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal tried to make a pass through the middle of his defensive zone, but Marchant picked it off. However, Valiquette was up to the challenge and calmly made the save.
"I saw the giveaway, and I think it was Staalsy, and he's such a great kid that I didn't want to let him down," Valiquette joked about his motivation to make the stop.
But out of the 18,200 fans at the Garden who enjoyed the victory, there was one Valiquette was concerned with more than the others.
"I can see what it's like now to have kids and be parents and it's a different step in life," Valiquette said. "It's been a pleasure so I really want to do well for him."
Contact Dave Lozo at email@example.com.
Michael Del Zotto