By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.comBrandon Dubinsky
’s power-play goal with just under six minutes remaining in the third period lifted the Rangers to a dramatic opening-night 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic.
|Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stops a shot by Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier on Saturday night at the O2 Arena in Prague. Lundqvist finished with 20 saves. |
Dubinsky, who helped create the power play when he was high-sticked in the face by Gary Roberts during a scrum along the boards in the offensive zone, ripped a pinpoint shot through a Nigel Dawes screen and past Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith at 14:17 of the final period to snap a 1-1 tie and provide the Blueshirts with the winning margin. Dubinsky’s shot needed to be a perfect one as Smith was sensational on Saturday, stopping 39 of 41 Ranger shots.
“We played great and we deserved to win tonight,” said Dubinsky. “We’re real happy with the way we played start to finish, and happy that we got the result we wanted.”
The contest marked the opening of the Rangers’ 82nd season in the National Hockey League, and the first time the club had played a regular-season game outside of North America. The Rangers, who were the designated visiting team on Saturday, will face-off with the Lightning again on Sunday in Prague, when they will wear their home blue uniforms.
Markus Naslund opened the scoring at 18:09 of the second period, netting his 372nd career NHL goal and first as a Blueshirt in his Rangers debut. Scott Gomez started the scoring play with a steal at center ice, before skating over the blueline and feeding Naslund in full flight on right wing. The 35 year-old veteran let a wicked wrist shot fly from the right dot and beat Smith under his right arm for the first goal of the game, and the season.
“Naslund is a world-class player,” noted Gomez. “He could have had three or four goals tonight. Playing with him, and (Chris) Drury, really makes my job easy.”
However, despite being vastly outshot and outplayed, the Lightning were able to tie the game just 3:58 into the third period. Martin St. Louis sped around Rangers defenseman Dmitri Kalinin, and roofed a backhand shot over Henrik Lundqvist
’s glove from in tight to even the score 1-1.
Energized by St. Louis’ goal, the Lightning picked up their level of play and nearly pulled ahead midway through the third, but Lundqvist made a sensational glove save on Steven Stamkos, the first overall pick in this year’s NHL entry draft, on a partial breakaway. That save loomed even larger when Dubinsky restored the Rangers lead four minutes later.
“They had some quality chances, a couple of breakaways there, but Hank was solid, nice and calm back there,” Gomez said of Lundqvist, who made 20 saves. “Games like this where you outshoot a team like that, it would be heartbreaking to lose, but Hank made the key saves and it was a great team effort tonight.”
After the national anthems of the United States and the Czech Republic were performed by a Czech opera singer and the ceremonial drop of the puck between the two captains took place, the Rangers and Lightning started the 2008-09 season with an up-tempo, exciting, but scoreless first period. Both teams had numerous quality scoring chances in the opening stanza, with the two goaltenders standing out as the best players on the ice for their respective clubs.
Smith was the first to be tested when Ryan Callahan
ripped a quick slap shot off of a Lauri Korpikoski steal and feed on left wing that was ticketed for the upper corner of the net 1:34 into the contest. But Smith flashed out his glove and made the first difficult save of the season.
After Callahan’s early scoring opportunity, the Lightning controlled much of the play for the first half of the opening stanza, and Lundqvist was equal to the challenge, making several key saves. Just 2:37 into the game, Vincent Lecavalier, who ended up with four shots on goal in the first, stole the puck in front of the Rangers cage and fired a pair of in-tight shots that Lundqvist denied. Five minutes later, Lundqvist made a sensational diving stick save on Lecavalier’s partial breakaway during a Lightning power play.
Lundqvist also made terrific saves on Stamkos, Vaclav Prospal and Roberts in the game’s first 10 minutes, and finished the opening period having stopped all eight shots that he faced.
The Rangers turned up the heat on Smith in the second half of the initial stanza, beginning with a gorgeous rush up ice by Gomez that ended with a booming left wing slap shot which Smith sticked aside at the 11:48 mark. Two minutes later, after Dubinsky had just sent a rebound shot off the post, Smith made a sprawling stick save on a bouncing power play shot by Dawes that came within inches of crossing the goal line.
The toughest of Smith’s 14 first-period saves came at 17:38 when he kicked out Chris Drury’s slap shot after the newly-minted Rangers captain stole the puck from veteran Mark Recchi and skated in on a shorthanded rush.
“I like the fact that we stayed with them at the beginning and then kind of took the game over in a sense,” said Rangers head coach Tom Renney, who is now 6-0 behind the bench in regular season openers in his career. “I liked the fact that we kept generating shots and offense.”
Smith’s outstanding play continued into the second period when New York outshot Tampa Bay 16-3, but came away leading only 1-0 on Naslund’s goal at 18:09. The Lightning’s netminder started the middle stanza in strong fashion, making a diving save on Naslund’s power-play shot from the doorstep just 50 seconds into the second.
As the Rangers continued to press and force the young Lightning defensemen into turnover after turnover, Smith repeatedly bailed out his teammates with clutch saves in the second period. From the seat of his pants, Smith denied Drury and Naslund during a Rangers power play at 9:55, and a minute later he fought through a screen to get his left shoulder in the way of a rising Aaron Voros slap shot. And at 12:43 Smith held his ground as Colton Orr burst up right wing, sent a difficult wrist shot on net, and then crashed into the goalie.
Undeterred by Orr, Smith continued to turn aside every Rangers scoring opportunity until finally Naslund broke though late in the period. But his heroics guaranteed that the Lightning, despite being dominated by the Rangers, would still have a chance to steal the game in the final period, but the Rangers ultimately would not allow that to happen.
“As a team you could really sense that we very much into this tonight,” said Renney. “Our level of preparation and concentration was excellent. To see our team before the game was to see a sense that this was the big time, this is what we do for a living.”
The Rangers will try to make it a perfect trip to Prague to open the 2008-09 campaign when they skate against the Lightning again on Sunday, before returning to New York to host the Chicago Blackhawks in the home opener at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.