That’s the New York Rangers.
After winning the first leg of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere Prague, the Rangers woke up Sunday knowing they could leave this beautiful city with four points. Not only could these four points be the difference in attaining home-ice advantage or simply getting into the playoffs in April, right now they could be the cure to the post-trip hangover that awaits them in New York.
The Rangers got them all thanks to another 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the O2 Arena before boarding their swanky charter plane, which was bringing them back to the grind and normalcy of the NHL season.
“To come this far and to get four out of four points, it doesn’t mean much now, but to start the season like that we’ll take it,” Rangers alternate captain Scott Gomez said. “I’m sure the plane ride will be fun. It’s always fun when you win.”
The Rangers’ constant pressure, constant attacking and intelligence of always having a third-man high in the zone caused the Lightning to see a big blue blur. It was similar to the last 50 minutes of Saturday’s game.
Tampa Bay managed only 19 shots on goal after sending 21 at Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on Saturday. The Rangers, meanwhile, had 39 shots Sunday and finished the weekend outshooting their opponent, 80-40.
“We’re too easy to play against. Until that changes, we’re going to have trouble,” Tampa coach Barry Melrose said. “Our goaltenders (Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig) are great. We have a lot of skill on our team, but skill doesn’t mean anything if you don’t work hard, and we’re being outworked.”
For the second straight night, the Rangers scored power-play goal. Wade Redden redirected a pretty pass from Markus Naslund into the high slot to tie the game at 1-1 just 3:47 into the second period.
Meanwhile, Tampa’s power play was shutout on five chances. It was 0-for-4 Saturday, but the drought appears to be a carryover from the preseason, when the Bolts were 3-for-33.
The Lightning’s lone goal came when Adam Hall got enough of his stick on Andrej Meszaros’ point shot to turn the puck on its side so it could slip right through Henrik Lundqvist’s legs.
“We’re looking to make a perfect play, but the New York Rangers don’t look to make a perfect play,” Melrose said. “Look at our goal, we just shot it. We have to get back to a simple mindset. Great players that keep it simple are very tough to play against. That’s what we have to get to doing more of.”
To give you an idea of how tilted the ice was in the Rangers direction, consider that after two periods the Bolts and Gomez were about even. Tampa Bay had a goal on nine shots and the Rangers center had a goal on eight shots.
Great for Gomez. Not so for the Lightning.
The Rangers, who held a 33-9 advantage after two periods, outshot the Lightning, 18-6, in the second. They scored twice on goals by Redden and Gomez.
“I really do like our work habits,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “I like the way we tried to forecheck. I like the way we tried to put pucks to the net and tried to go there. I like our work habits coming back. It is gonna take some time – I said that last night – to get this thing to the point where it’s like a piece of equipment, but that’s the objective of 29 other teams, too.”
When Gomez scored 12:12 into the second period, the Rangers held a 28-6 advantage in shots on goal. However, three of Tampa’s shots were taken at least 50 feet from the net. Chris Gratton was credited with a shot when his length-of-the-ice shorthanded clearing attempt slid on goal.
Officially in the play-by-play of the game, Gratton’s shot was from 169 feet.
Meanwhile, Gomez’s go-ahead goal was right from the doorstep. Redden’s point shot was deflected by Aaron Voros but stopped by Kolzig. The rebound came right to Gomez stationed at the right post, and he swept the puck into the net.
“I don’t think we want to give up as many shots as how old I am,” said the 38-year-old Kolzig. “We don’t want to give up 40 shots a game. We’re not going to win too many hockey games regardless of how (Mike Smith) and I play.”
Roughly two minutes after Gomez gave the Rangers the lead, Steven Stamkos nearly tied it, but his shot hit the crossbar. Stamkos raised arms thinking it was a goal, but the referee next to him quickly waved his arms signaling no goal and the play continued.
They even had the wave going.
“They wanted to get up on their feet and they wanted to make lots of noise,” Renney said. “I have always been very impressed by the crowd here in Prague. I remember in the ’04 World Championships when they stood arm-in-arm and sang, ‘If you are Czech, you must jump.’ Obviously, we’re from New York so we’re not going to get that, but we recognize good fans when we see them, and they certainly have them here.”
When it was over, the Rangers stood at center ice and rewarded the fans with the same stick salute that they have become famous for after wins inside Madison Square Garden.
Considering the NHL tried to make the O2 Arena feel like the Garden on Sunday, with the same game presentation that you’ll see at the famous arena, it was a fitting tribute to fans that had waited for a weekend like this forever.
“It’s something that our European players actually brought with them back to New York after the lockout, and it’s an acknowledgement to the fans at Madison Square Garden,” Renney said. “We thought it would be appropriate to do the same thing here simply because they’re great fans, it’s a great hockey city, a great hockey country and we want to acknowledge the fact that we appreciate the support for both teams.”
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