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Shorthanded situations don't leave Rangers short

by Mike G. Morreale /

Brendan Shanahan has helped the New York Rangers' penalty kill dominate the New Jersey Devils during the regular season and into the playoffs.
Newark, N.J. -- It's no secret specialty teams can play a vital role at any point of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It certainly has been a difference-maker for the New York Rangers so far this spring.

So perhaps it was fitting that Rangers coach Tom Renney acknowledged a special assistant when the subject turned to his team's effective penalty killing.

Perry Pearn, who joined the Rangers as an assistant coach in 2004 after serving with the Ottawa Senators under Jacques Martin, is that man behind the scenes of one of the League's stingiest shorthanded units.

The fact of the matter is the Rangers are proving this postseason that their penalty-killing efficiency, which ranked sixth (84.6 percent) in the NHL during the regular season, is no fluke.

Just ask the New Jersey Devils, who have scored just twice on 40 power-play opportunities against the Rangers this season, including a dismal 1-for-9 in two playoff losses during this first-round series.

Following their 2-1 setback Friday night at the Prudential Center, the Devils now find themselves in a two-games-to-none hole with the next two games at Madison Square Garden. Game 3 is Sunday night.

"The penalty-killing has been outstanding and, to be honest, it's been that way all year long," Renney said. "I spoke to Perry Pearn (on Friday) and I'll tell you what I told him. He is responsible for the success of our PK; the work that he has done there has been remarkable."

Renney is also quick to credit the players, who have a firm grasp of the system and a strong belief in its effectiveness.

"At the end of the day, this whole experience is about the players and their commitment to killing properly," Renney said. "A good penalty-killing unit integrates into the rest of your play. Others feel inspired by that because the killers are out there doing what they're supposed to do and doing a good job, so I think it does have an influence on the rest of our game and it's been very important all season."

Rangers winger Brendan Shanahan, who, along with center Chris Drury, are the two most-used forwards on the penalty kill, feels penalty killing will continue to be an important storyline in this series.

It certainly was Friday night when the Rangers killed a four-minute high-sticking penalty to defenseman Christian Backman in the second period. The game stood 0-0 at that point and momentum was certainly on New Jersey's side.

"I think when a penalty kill is winding down, you could sense in the building some disappointment," Shanahan said. "Our four-minute kill was huge and that really set a tone for us down a man. These are two teams that don't give up as much and every game we've played against them has been similar. There aren't many chances and then, when there is chance, its great goaltending.

"When you have two of the top defensive teams in the NHL that's the way it's going to be. But, they always say your best penalty killer is your goalie and, when called upon, Hank has been very big for us."

Hank is Henrik Lundqvist, and he has stopped 52 of 54 shots in in this series, 23 of 24 in the two third periods. He understands the importance of being even sharper when down a man.

"Our penalty killers have been good all year," Lundqvist said. "Everybody is so focused and works so hard when you're a man short and there's no doubt special teams will continue to play a big role the rest of the series. Our penalty killing saved us a lot of games all season and it's happening again in the playoffs."

In addition to Shanahan and Drury, defensemen Marc Staal, Michael Rozsival and Dan Girardi have also been big contributors shorthanded. The Rangers successfully squashed five power-play chances Friday, including the double-minor to Backman, who was sent to the box after high sticking Zach Parise across the face midway through the second.

"We believed we could kill that four-minute penalty," Lundqvist said. "The thing is, if you're scared to take penalties because you know you're PK is struggling, you're in for some trouble. We took a bad penalty but the guys got out there and did their jobs. The Devils moved the puck pretty well tonight on the power play, but the important thing was that we didn't allow any to get by.

"The strange thing (as a penalty killer) is you're really tired but you just try and stay positive and ready for the next one. The guys are working hard in front of me. It gives you energy when you see the guys blocking shots and just skating really hard out there."

The Rangers had 16 blocked shots in Game 1 and 13 in Friday's Game 2, including three each by Giardi and Staal.

It also helps the Rangers that it has become routine for Lundqvist make a big save at some point. In the opener, it was a left-leg-pad save off Patrik Elias late in the second period. Friday, there was the denial of Jamie Langenbrunner's shot from the slot in the first and a spread-eagle left-pad stop of John Madden late in the third with the Rangers holding a 2-0 lead.

"The Rangers did a good job on their penalty kill, especially since our power play had a lot of chances," Devils winger Patrik Elias said. "We just couldn't get anything going and fell short."

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