NEW YORK – One goal, three assists and 12 penalty minutes. Yes, Sean Avery was on his game for the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
The pest broke out of a 19-game scoring slump with a power-play goal in the first period and carried the Blueshirts to a 5-2 victory against the Dallas Stars at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers improved to 7-1-2 in their last 10 games while the Stars lost their third straight.
Whether he was having some choice words for Stars goaltender Marty Turco or undressing defenseman Matt Niskanen to set up an insurance goal, Avery was doing everything the Rangers expect from him.
"When I see him talk to the other goalie, I know he's on top of his game," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 25 saves to improve to 19-14-5. "He's a great player, and when he's confident, you can tell. He talks more, he's more physical. He just gets more involved in everything. To have a player like him who can do a little bit of everything, score, pass the puck and play physical like that, it's good for us."
The four-point game was the first of Avery's career, but the casual bumping of Stars players after whistles in an effort to get under their skin was nothing new for him. But don't expect Stars coach Marc Crawford to admit that Avery's antics did anything to throw off his team's composure.
"He played well tonight, but he had no impact on our guys," Crawford said of Avery. "You're giving him far too much credit. Give him credit during Fashion Week."
Avery's credit is probably pretty good in the Lone Star State, considering the Stars are paying half his salary after the Rangers claimed him off re-entry waivers from Dallas last season. But the not-so-subtle dig about Avery's much-publicized internship with Vogue magazine underscored the point that while teams don't want to admit Avery can drive them nuts, the evidence of it is on the ice and in the locker room after the game.
"He has a good shot, he always has worked hard," Turco said, but, "his intelligence on the ice has always been an issue; was with us and is there. But that just adds to the confusion for our club. It really has nothing to do with him."
Avery didn't lose sight of the fact of what made this game different for him than any other he's ever played.
"I was getting paid by two teams," Avery deadpanned.
Stars' Ribeiro taken to hospital
Stars center Mike Ribeiro was taken to a hospital following a scary high-sticking incident with the Rangers forward Christopher Higgins.
With 4:28 to go in the second period, Ribeiro took the stick in the throat and stayed on the ice for several minutes while trainers attended to him. He was able to skate off under his own power, but did not return to the game.
"He's got something wrong with his throat, but we got him at the hospital now making sure everything’s OK," Stars coach Marc Crawford said. "It's a contusion, and they're just making sure his airways are all clear."
Higgins was given a two-minute penalty, but Crawford wondered if perhaps it should have been four minutes with Ribeiro suffering an injury on the play.
"It's not my decision. If there's an injury on the play, you're supposed to get four minutes," Crawford said. "They didn't think it was a severe enough injury. That's tough for them to call."
-- Dave Lozo
"That was the way that Sean Avery needs to play," Sean Avery said. "I've got to stay consistent with it, and know that the support's there for my teammates when something happens that maybe shouldn't and know that the positives are going to outweigh the negatives."
Avery's third assist of the game came in the third period on Chris Drury's sixth goal of the season and was of the highlight-reel variety.
It started harmlessly enough with Avery carrying the puck slowly into the Stars zone 1-on-2. But he drew Niskanen to the boards, spun around his check, drove to the net and slid a pass to the top of the crease for Drury, who had a tap-in goal to give the Rangers a 4-2 lead with 11:03 remaining in the game.
"He plays with an edge," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "He makes a hell of a play on (Drury's) goal. He is an important part to our hockey club when he plays on edge and when he plays a north-south hockey game. I thought he was very efficient with that tonight."
Stars center Brad Richards opened the scoring just 2:07 into the first period. He carried the puck down the left wing in a 2-on-1 with Jere Lehtinen. Richards tried to elevate a pass over Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, but it deflected off Staal and past Lundqvist to give Dallas (18-14-11) the early 1-0 lead.
But Avery responded on the power play three minutes later by taking a nice cross-ice feed in stride from defenseman Matt Gilroy and blistering a slap shot past Turco to tie the score at 1-1.
Marian Gaborik's League-leading 28th goal of the season – assisted by Avery – gave the Rangers (21-17-5) a 2-1 lead after the first period. Avery slid a backhand pass that Gaborik was able to knock out of the air, control, and backhand through the legs of Turco with 4:13 left in the first period.
Lundqvist (23 saves) didn't have much work, but many of the shots he faced were of the difficult variety. His biggest save came in the third period with the Rangers leading 3-2. Stars rookie Jamie Benn moved past Staal to get a breakaway, but Lundqvist stacked the pads to keep it a one-goal margin and set the stage for Avery's heroics later in the period.
Ales Kotalik's long-distance blast midway through the second period put the Rangers ahead for good in the see-saw affair. He beat an unscreened Turco from just inside the blue line near the boards with a low laser to make it 3-2. Avery had the primary assist on the goal.
Turco wasn't at his best Wednesday, stopping only 20 of 24 shots to take the loss.
After the game, Crawford said he was pleased with his team's work ethic and effort while killing off a double-minor penalty, but lamented Niskanen's gaffe against Avery.
"We battled our tails off tonight. We kill off all those penalties and our defense does a great job, and Matt Niskanen goes out and gets beat like he's playing in a different League," Crawford said.
Leave it to a former Vogue intern to undress an NHL defenseman.