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Biron shines as Rangers blank HC Sparta Prague

by Dan Rosen
PRAGUE -- The slow start wasn't what Rangers coach John Tortorella wanted, but it probably was expected considering his squad was still getting adjusted to the new arena, the slightly larger ice sheet and the totally foreign crowd.

At least goalie Martin Biron had no problem getting used to the elements here at Tesla Arena. If he did, the Rangers could have been in serious trouble in the first of their four European preseason games over five days.

Biron was sharp in the first period and the rest of the Rangers picked up their game in the second. Artem Anisimov and Ruslan Fedotenko scored back-to-back goals in a span of less than three minutes and the Rangers controlled the second half of the game, cruising to a 2-0 victory over HC Sparta Prague.

"I've been feeling it in practices the last couple of days, since we've been here," said Biron, who made 23 saves, including 13 in the first period. "I was very excited to get a full game in, anxious a little with butterflies. I think that might have carried over into the first period and getting a jump. That first period was a very good test for me and then to sustain that level of focus and energy throughout the game. That was good."

Biron made four key saves in the first to preserve the scoreless tie. His first came early in the game when he closed his five-hole just in time to stop the puck from sliding through. The last, and perhaps toughest, came when Sparta drove in on a 3-on-1 rush in the final minute of the period. Biron hugged the post and made the save.

"You could tell he was in control," Tortorella said of Biron. "He stood tall, and that's good news for us."

The Rangers, who were too slow and too passive in the first, found their legs and their game in the second. The bulk of the final 40 minutes were played in Sparta's end.

The Rangers held a 27-10 advantage in shots from the second period on.

"When we started to play physical we won more battles," Marian Gaborik told "After the first it was a little bit that we have to start skating and winning battles. When we started doing that you could see the difference."

Gaborik and Ryan McDonagh each had chances before 15 seconds had elapsed in the second, giving the Rangers the jump they needed. They finally cashed in when Anisimov used his backhand to beat Sparta goalie Tomas Popperle from the slot 5:45 into the period.

Brandon Dubinsky started the play from the right wing with a diagonal pass to Tim Erixon, who was standing on the goal line to the left of the net. Dubinsky's pass made the defense turn and Popperle went to hug the left post. Anisimov was left open in the slot and Erixon's pass first bounced off Popperle's pads and then went right to him.

Anisimov had time to settle the puck on his backhand and roof it into what was basically an empty net because Popperle was slow in getting across.

"I had so much time," Anisimov said, laughing. "I caught the puck, looked at it and then I shoot. Sometimes when you're in a hurry the puck can bounce, but I made sure."

Fedotenko made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at the 8:30 mark of the second.

It was a similar play to the first goal, only this time it was Derek Stepan moving the puck from the right wing to Michael Del Zotto, who was down low on the goal line to the left of the net. Del Zotto looked up and found Fedotenko in a similar spot as Anisimov.

Sparta's problem was again it failed to cover the slot area, leaving the shooter all alone to take his time and fire into the right side of the net. Fedotenko did just that.

Del Zotto gave Stepan the credit for the goal, saying his first pass was so on point that it got the defense turned and allowed him to easily feather the pass to the wide open Fedotenko.

"I thought Stepan had a real good night on the power play," Tortorella said.

The Rangers were guilty of putting it on cruise control roughly midway through the third period and if it weren't for Biron, Sparta would have closed the gap to one.

Steve Eminger coughed up the puck deep in the Rangers zone, but Biron came up with a monster point-blank save on Petr Tenkrat, who tried to beat the goalie with a one-timer from the high slot off a feed from Ivan Rachunek with 12:30 to play in the period. Rachunek, whose late brother Karel counted the Rangers as one of his NHL teams, was the forechecking forward who forced Eminger to give up the puck.

Eminger's play was the last near costly gaffe the Rangers made. They hung on for the shutout, but it wasn't exactly a masterpiece.

"This is supposed to be a fun trip for us to be able to experience Europe, a few countries and different cities, but we're here to play," Biron said. "I'm a firm believer that 100 percent of yourself doesn't only have to go one way. You can put 100 percent of yourself into your activities off the ice and 100 percent in your activities on the ice. That's what the guys did. The last couple of days we had some great times visiting the city, and after the first period tonight we saw the guys really coming through together. That was great. That was what we wanted to see out of our first game."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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