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Drury gets winner in Rangers debut

by John Kreiser
Chris Drury was named top star in his debut with the Rangers, a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Chris Drury’s debut as a New York Ranger was a night he’ll never forget.

Drury, one of New York’s two big offseason signings, set up his new team’s first goal of the season, then scored the game-winner during a four-goal third-period rally as the Rangers beat the Florida Panthers 5-2 on Thursday night.

The Rangers trailed 2-1 after two periods and had only nine shots on goal through 40 minutes before coming alive.

“We didn’t get down on each other,” said Drury. “We took a deep breath and relaxed a bit. We played a looser but a smarter third period.”

The Rangers came out buzzing. Petr Prucha tied the game at 6:07, beating goaltender Tomas Vokoun with a wrist shot from the left circle after taking a feed from defenseman Marek Malik following a Florida giveaway. Drury then scored his 38th regular-season game-winner – but the first one that the Madison Square Garden crowd enjoyed.

Drury came to the Rangers after helping the Buffalo Sabres eliminate New York in the second round of the playoffs. The Rangers didn’t have to wait very long to get a quick return on their investment.

"Wasn't that nice?" Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "That was the first thing I thought about, 'OK, now it's our turn."

Drury, a Trumbull, Conn., native who said when he signed this summer that he had always wanted to play for the Rangers, put his new team ahead at 8:46 of the final period. Playing in front of a sellout crowd that included his parents, Drury converted a backhand feed from Jaromir Jagr. Drury was alone in front and had a wide-open net when Jagr’s pass slipped through a pair of defenders.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Drury said. It’s a line that has followed one of the NHL’s most clutch players for most of his career.

Rookie Ryan Callahan made it 4-2 just 12 seconds later when he scored an unassisted goal, beating Vokoun to the top corner from the right circle after another giveaway. Martin Straka, assisted by Drury and Malik, added an insurance goal at 13:02.

"We have to learn that whatever happens we have to go back after them on the next shift," Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said. "It was a bad couple of minutes."

The Rangers came out fired up after a pregame ceremony that included Brian Leetch – whose No. 2 will be retired on Jan. 24 – dropping the puck for the ceremonial first faceoff. The Garden crowd went wild when Drury’s pass hit a skate and went to defenseman Michal Rozsival, who fired the puck past Vokoun.

It was the second year in a row that the Rangers scored on their first shot of the season. Jagr, who also assisted on Rozsival’s goal, scored 29 seconds into the Rangers’ opener against Washington last season.

The Rangers kept up the pressure for a few minutes, but by mid-period, the Panthers were beginning to control the tempo of the game, even though the Rangers preserved their 1-0 lead through the first 20 minutes.

The lead didn’t last long. Brett McLean capitalized on a defensive turnover and beat Henrik Lundqvist 2:14 into the second period to tie the game. The Panthers continued to dominate play and were rewarded at 9:47, when Nathan Horton took a feed from Ruslan Salei and beat Lundqvist between the circles.

Lundqvist kept the deficit at one goal with several key saves as the Rangers were outshot 12-4 in the second period, a margin that pretty much indicated the Panthers’ dominance during the middle 20 minutes. Florida outshot the Rangers 21-9 through two periods.

The Garden crowd hooted as the Rangers left the ice following the second period. By game’s end, they were chanting “We Want The Cup.”

Wire Services contributed to this story

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