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Biron backbones big win at St. Louis

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers goaltender Martin Biron gets some help from defenseman Dan Girardi in clearing the puck out of his crease on Saturday night at St. Louis. Biron didn't need much help, given his outstanding performance in his team's victory over the Blues.

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Entering Saturday’s contest in St. Louis, Rangers goaltender Martin Biron had never beaten the Blues over the course of his 12-year NHL career. Despite that fact, Biron made his 11th start of the season in place of Henrik Lundqvist when the Rangers invaded the Scottrade Center on Saturday night.

The decision to play Biron proved to be a sound one, as he turned in an outstanding 23-save effort to lead the Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Blues that completed a sweep of the Blueshirts’ two-games-in-two-nights road swing through Dallas and St. Louis this weekend.

The victory -- Biron’s first in 10 career games against the Blues -- was the Rangers’ league-high 15th on the road this season. They have now won three straight games and are 25-15-3 overall on the season, with their 53 points keeping them one point behind Washington for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

“We talked about this weekend being the difference between a team that fights for a playoff spot at the end of the year or one that fights for home-ice advantage, what team do we want to be,” said Biron. “It wasn’t easy. Last night we gut one out in Dallas, then a quick turnaround and we do the same thing tonight. It’s just about finding ways to win, and showing that resiliency and battle level. That’s our identity.”

While Biron’s play was a huge part of Saturday’s victory, so, too, was the spectacular performance put forth by the Rangers’ penalty-killing unit. The Rangers killed off all six Blues power plays, including a double-minor high sticking call against Sean Avery in the third period in which St. Louis managed just one shot on goal.

“That kill was a big momentum swing for us,” defenseman Michael Sauer said of the important third-period kill. “We’re up by one, take a four-minute penalty, and it could go one of two ways. They could get one or we could shut them down and take the wind out of their sails. And we stopped them, so it was a key moment, for sure.”

After a tight-checking and scoreless first period in which there were only eight shots in total -- six by the Rangers -- the two teams found their collective legs in an up-tempo exciting second period. And despite the game’s first goal, the Rangers exited the ice after 40 minutes holding a 2-1 lead.

Rangers rookie Mats Zuccarello is congratulated at the Blueshirts bench after setting up Derek Stepan at 9:12 of the second period to tie the game at 1-1.
After Brad Winchester had given the Blues a 1-0 advantage at the 2:13 mark of the middle stanza by deflecting Eric Brewer’s pass past Biron, the Rangers answered back at 9:12 to tie the game off a pretty passing play.

Brandon Dubinsky -- an offensive force all night long -- sent Mats Zuccarello in over the blueline with a pass, and Zuccarello then drew two defenders towards him before springing Derek Stepan behind the Blues defense with another pretty pass. Stepan deked Jaroslav Halak one way before whipping his 12th goal of the season between Halak’s pads to pull the Rangers even 1-1.

“A couple great passes by my two linemates and I was able to get one past him there,” said Stepan. “It was a good play by the whole line. Something just seems to click with us, and we’ve built some good chemistry.”

Six minutes later -- after a series of great saves by Biron kept the game tied -- Dubinsky helped give the Rangers their first lead of the night with some tremendous work along the right-wing boards in the offensive zone.

After winning a battle for the puck, Dubinsky maneuvered around a pair of Blues and found Marian Gaborik all alone in front of the net. Although Gaborik’s shot deflected off Halak and hit the crossbar, the puck fell straight down along the goal line, and a hustling Avery pushed the disc into the cage at 15:26.

“Dubi is playing phenomenal right now,” said Stepan. “He’s gritty. He’s getting points. He’s a leader in our locker room. He is just making some big plays.”

Rangers rookie defenseman Michael Sauer drives around a St. Louis player on Saturday night. Sauer and the Blueshirts blueline corps played another outstanding game in limiting the Blues to just 24 total shots on goal over the course of the game.
The goal was Avery’s second of the season -- and first in 35 games since he scored at The Garden on Oct. 27 against the Thrashers. His effort on the goal was typical of Avery’s strong play on the night -- and extended over the past several games -- while skating with Gaborik and Artem Anisimov on most shifts.

The goals by Stepan and Avery came in support of Biron, who was exceptionally sharp between the pipes for the Rangers. Coming off a performance last Sunday in Florida that Rangers head coach John Tortorella called “excellent” despite the 3-0 loss to the Panthers, Biron was even better Saturday night in St. Louis, earning his seventh win in 10 decisions this year.

After facing only two shots in the opening period, and playing a span of 18:11 bridging the first two periods in which he did not face a single shot, Biron faced 15 shots in the second period. Many of those shots were of high quality as the Blues skilled offensive players awoke during the middle 20 minutes of play to create a string of quality scoring chances.

One minute after surrendering the game-opening score by Winchester, Biron made a huge glove save on B.J. Crombeen’s breakaway attempt. Then after Stepan tied the game, Biron made a strong pad save on Matt D’Agostini’s shorthanded partial break at 10:38. And during a Blues power play with eight minutes to play in the second, Biron robbed both David Backes and Alexander Steen from point-blank range.

“Mart was the guy, he was the difference for us tonight,” said Sauer. “It all started with Marty.”

The Rangers have now posted their fourth three-game win streak of the season. They will look to win four games in a row for the first time this season when they return home to host the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
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