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Injuries mount in 3-0 loss at Florida

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun makes a tough third-period save against Rangers forward Brandon Prust. Vokoun made 32 saves for a shutout, with some of his best stops coming at Prust's expense.

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By Jim Cerny,

The Rangers’ injury epidemic this season has quickly moved straight from ironic to downright surreal. Currently missing four regulars, and having lost 123 man-games to injury already this season, the Rangers received another big blow in their 3-0 loss Sunday afternoon to the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center when veteran winger Ruslan Fedotenko suffered a badly bruised hand while blocking a shot in the first period.

“It’s tough because you are losing some players who are playing with the identity we want to show out there, with grit, physicality, desperation, and competitiveness,” said goaltender Martin Biron, who made 33 saves. “Those are all things that describe our club, and the guys that are missing -- and now Feds -- show that. But now the other guys need to show that. It’s how we win games.”

If Fedotenko’s injury keeps him out of the lineup for any sustained length of time, it would be the third time this season that a Rangers’ player has lost significant time due to an injury suffered while blocking a shot, and the fourth hand injury overall.

Team captain Chris Drury missed a total of 31 games due to two separate broken fingers, the first of which took place while blocking a shot during a training camp scrimmage. Ryan Callahan is currently on Injured Reserve after breaking his hand while blocking a shot in Pittsburgh on Dec. 15.

The Rangers entered play on Sunday ranked third in the NHL with 620 blocked shots, despite the obvious risk-reward scenarios.

“When you sacrifice your body like that to make a block sometimes it’ll hit the wrong spot and you get some injuries, but that’s the way we play and we’re not going to change the way we play,” said defenseman Marc Staal.

In addition to losing the players to several hand-related injuries this season, the Rangers have also seen vital contributors to the club like Marian Gaborik, Michal Rozsival, Erik Christensen, and Derek Boogaard sidelined due to various injuries. And the team’s second-leading scorer from a year ago, Vinny Prospal, has yet to play in 2010-11 following knee surgery.

Rangers goaltender Martin Biron prepares to make a stop on a helmetless Christopher Higgins during the early stages of Sunday's game. Biron finished with 33 saves in the Blueshirts' loss to the Panthers.
“We need guys to step up,” said forward Brandon Dubinsky. “Guys who have not had as much ice time need to step up and take advantage of their opportunity. We started the season without our top two scorers because guys stepped up and we found a way get a good start to the year. So now the same thing goes.”

Fedotenko suffered his injury blocking a booming slap shot off the stick of defenseman Bryan McCabe during a Panthers power play 12:21 into the opening period. In obvious pain, Fedotenko remained on the ice because the puck did not leave the Rangers zone. Before he could leave the ice, Fedotenko -- holding his right arm tightly against his body -- valiantly went down trying to block two other shots.

When the puck finally was cleared by the Rangers, Fedotenko flung his stick to the ice and quickly headed directly to the team’s locker room.

Almost incredibly, two other Rangers -- Brian Boyle in the first period and Dale Weise in the second -- blocked shots with their skates and were forced to hobble off the ice during Sunday’s contest, as well, although both were able to return to action, unlike Fedotenko.

“It’s not the best way to go, but the good teams will find a way to right that little down wave, beat the injury bug and get right back at it,” Biron said of the Rangers’ rash of injuries.

For the second consecutive night, the Rangers entered the third period trailing 1-0. On Saturday in Tampa, they rallied to tie the Lightning with under a minute to play in regulation on Marian Gaborik’s goal before losing 2-1 in overtime.

On Sunday, with Biron starting in goal for the first time since Dec. 16 -- and for only the third time since Nov. 22 -- the Rangers again trailed 1-0 after 40 minutes of play. Biron was solid between the pipes, stopping 25 of 26 shots through two periods, allowing only David Booth’s power-play goal off a rebound at 11:32 of the middle stanza.

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal dumps Florida forward Marty Reasoner to the ice right in front of goaltender Martin Biron's crease on Sunday night.
“I think both teams were feeling out the game, and I don’t think we were playing at the level we are capable of off the get-go,” said Dubinsky. “As the game wore on and we got to the second period I thought we began to take over.”

Biron seemingly surrendered a second goal early in the third period when Corey Stillman directed the puck over the goal line. However Biron immediately charged after the referees claiming that Stillman had kicked the puck into the net. After a video review, the goal was disallowed, and the Rangers’ deficit remained one.

However, former Rangers winger Christopher Higgins scored an unassisted goal 8:50 into the third to put the Panthers up 2-0 and, effectively, put the game away. Stephen Weiss scored a shorthanded empty-net goal with 90 seconds left to play to close out the scoring.

Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun turned in a terrific performance, stopping all shots he faced in earning his fifth shutout of the season, and 43rd of his career. The Rangers were shutout for only the second time this season.

“We had some good chances, but they didn’t get any goals for us,” said Staal. “Vokoun was good for them, and we couldn’t find a way to get it past him. So we ended up losing.”

The loss also marked the Rangers’ first this season when playing the second of back-to-back situations. The Rangers had won their first nine such games this year.

Defenseman Michael Del Zotto returned to the Rangers’ lineup after being scratched in four consecutive matches. Del Zotto had a fairly quiet game, paired with rookie Michael Sauer on the blueline at even strength and regaining his spot on the point of the top power play unit -- although the Rangers had only two power-play opportunities in the contest.

The Rangers return to action on Wednesday night when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden. After that contest the Rangers head back to the road for games in Dallas on Friday and St. Louis on Saturday night.
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