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Avery penalty shot sparks Rangers? rally

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- Both the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning are headed into the Olympic break with 63 points, tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference.
But their mindsets could not have been more different after the Rangers used a four-goal second period to rally for a 5-2 victory Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. New York goes into the two-week layoff having won three of four, while Tampa Bay has lost three in a row.
"They should feel good about themselves. I'm glad they're going out on a good note, feeling good about themselves and coming back and winning a game," said Rangers coach John Tortorella, who will be an assistant coach for Team USA. "But we need to be apart for a little bit. And then I think it comes back with a fresher attitude."
The Rangers are feeling good about themselves after Sean Avery converted a penalty shot early in the second period and ignited the comeback after the Lightning took a 2-0 lead into the locker room after the first. Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen (2 goals, 1 assist) followed Avery's lead by scoring in the middle frame to help New York take control.
After being booed off their home ice after the first period, they received a standing ovation as the horn sounded to end the second period.
And to a man, everyone pointed to Avery's beautiful penalty shot goal as the catalyst.
"It was a great shot," Tortorella said. "Once I saw him take it wide, and saw where (Lightning goalie Mike) Smith was, I didn't think there was any chance. Give him credit. It was a great shot and it got us right back into the game."
"Avery's shot was a great move and big goal for us," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 27 saves and a few big stops to keep the score 2-0. "I challenged him a couple times in practice and told him he would never do that move in a game but he did today. It was awesome."
Avery, better known for racking up penalty minutes than points, looked like a seasoned 40-goal scorer on his penalty shot. He took it wide on his backhand before cutting to the middle against Smith, who moved way out to challenge. Avery simply waited for Smith to go down and roofed it into the top right corner of the net to cut the lead in half.
"I thought I played it well. He just out-waited me," said Smith, who made just 18 saves on 22 shots. "He made a pretty good shot. I mean, give him credit. I didn't think he was going to hang on to it that long and he made a pretty good shot."
The Lightning, who were playing their third game in four days, looked like they'd be the ones heading into the break on a high note. Steven Stamkos scored his 35th goal of the season -- and his League-leading 15th on the power play -- to give the Lightning 1-0 lead with 4:27 left in the first period.
Just 90 seconds later, Steve Downie redirected a Stamkos shot past Lundqvist to make it 2-0. It was the 13th straight game with a point for Stamkos, who has 47 goals and 53 assists in his last 82 regular-season games.
But it all fell apart for the Lightning in the second period.
"It's mental breakdowns, mental mistakes. We don't have anyone to blame but ourselves," said a clearly frustrated Stamkos. "It's just one of those things. We're beating ourselves. It's not like the other team is outplaying us, outshooting us (Tampa outshot the Rangers 29-23). They're capitalizing on the chances we're giving them, and that's about it."
And heading into the break?
"We don't feel very good," Stamkos said matter-of-factly. "Three (losses) in a row heading into the break, it's not acceptable. Especially with the race that we're in. I guess we should use this break to really think about the next 21 games that we have. It's kind of embarrassing the way we played the last three games.
"I think we just need to execute more. We're beating ourselves. We're losing coverages, we're giving pucks away instead of making the easy play. It's tough. We need to find a way to regroup after this break."
The Rangers were without leading scorer Marian Gaborik, who is dealing with a laceration of his right leg. It's the second game he's missed because of the injury, and he was only able to play about four minutes against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. His status for the Olympics is unknown.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @DLozoNHL

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