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Patient Rangers grab two more points

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky gives goaltender Martin Biron a big hug after Biron stopped all three Phoenix shooters in the overtime shootout to nail down a victory. The Blueshirts area perfect 9-0-0 in the second half of back-to-back games this season.

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By Jim Cerny,

The Rangers entered the third period of their game with the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in a very similar position to how they skated into the final 20 minutes of their contest against the Penguins in Pittsburgh only 24 hours prior, trailing by one goal.

And they came away with the same satisfying result on Thursday as they did on Wednesday -- a victory and two more important points in the standings. The Rangers edged the Coyotes 4-3 in a game decided by the shootout, one night after scoring four times in the third period to defeat the Penguins 4-1.

“I didn’t see many times we weren’t playing this hard when I was watching from the stands in my (injury) absence, and I don’t see it now,” said team captain Chris Drury, who assisted on Derek Stepan’s tying goal late in the third period. “The guys are playing hard every time they are out on the ice. It’s a choice they make, to play hard, to grind it out. And clearly they have committed to that choice.”

Trailing 3-2, and with time winding down in regulation, Drury won a huge faceoff in the offensive zone back to defenseman Michal Rozsival. Stationed just inside the blueline, Rozsival fired a shot towards Phoenix netminder Jason LaBarbera as Drury and Stepan charged towards the former Rangers’ goal crease.

LaBarbera made the first save, and then another on Drury’s put-back, but Stepan hammered the final rebound into the cage for his eighth goal of the season -- and first ever at The Garden -- to pull the Rangers even with 5:43 left to play.

Rangers forward Erik Christensen is congratulated by teammates at the Blueshirts' bench after scoring what stood up as the deciding goal in the shootout.
“I knew he was going to win that faceoff,” Stepan said of Drury. “I just had a feeling, and told him to win it back and have the D get it down to the cage and we would crash the net. When I saw he won the faceoff I just thought here we go! It’s a great feeling that it went in.”

Drury, playing in only his second game since returning from a second stint on Injured Reserve -- and in only his third game all season, picked up his first point of the year with the primary assist on Stepan’s hugely important goal.

“We were all going to the net and I think it was a real good shot by Rozy to get it all the way through,” explained Drury.

Stepan and Drury nearly teamed up to win the game in regulation on a neat passing play during a 3-on-2 rush into the Coyotes’ zone, but LaBarbera made a sharp save on Drury’s hard shot from the slot.

After dominating the five-minute overtime -- outshooting Phoenix 5-0 in the extra session -- but being held off the scoreboard by LaBarbera, the Rangers won it in the shootout with Martin Biron stopping all three shots he faced and Erik Christensen -- for the second time this season -- scoring the only goal in the shootout to provide the Rangers the winning margin.

“This is just as big a step for us as a young team than it is beating the Capitals the way we did (7-0 last Sunday at MSG) or coming back the other night against Pittsburgh,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “You’re not always going to play error-free or disciplined or just dead-on games. So you’ve got to find a way to win these types of games.”

The Rangers, who earned their 20th victory of the season on Thursday and who now have 41 points, have entered the third period trailing their opponent on 12 different occasions this season. They have found a way to earn nine points in those games with four wins and an overtime defeat -- a rather amazing feat for any team to accomplish in a league where third-period leads are usually locked down on a regular basis.

The victory also pushed the Rangers’ record to a perfect 9-0-0 in second games of back-to-backs this season. Overall they have won three in a row, 10 of 14, and 13 of 19. The Blueshirts sit comfortably in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, 11 points clear of a playoff spot.

“It shows we have a team maturity,” said Stepan. “We have a young group of guys, but the maturity level of this team is very high. We have a team-toughness and have shown an ability to stick with it all season long.”

Rangers forward Brandon Prust reacts to his shorthanded goal against Phoenix goalie Jason LaBarbera at 19:54 of the second period, making it a 3-2 game. Prust's third shorthanded goal of the 2010-11 season gave him a tie for the NHL lead.
Phoenix jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead just 5:53 into the game, scoring on a bad bounce after Biron was out of position trying to play the puck and then on an Adrian Aucoin screened rocket from the right point. After surrendering two goals on the first seven shots he faced, Biron seemed to be in for a long night, but instead he settled down and allowed only one more goal the rest of the way, finishing with 30 saves.

“It’s not easy because you’re battling all game hoping for the results after bouncing back from that kind of start,” said Biron. “In the third period I’m thinking that I was feeling good now and was wishing that I didn’t make that first mistake because it could be 2-2 or whatever. But we battled as a team and got it done.”

Dan Girardi wired his third goal of the season past LaBarbera at 12:07 of the first period, but Martin Hanzal netted his eighth for Phoenix 9:43 into the second to restore the Coyotes’ two-goal lead.

LaBarbera -- starting in the place of flu-ridden Ilya Bryzgalov and backed-up by emergency signee Tom Fenton, an amateur former Division III goalie at American International College --made a costly mistake in the waning seconds of the middle period that allowed the Rangers to snake back into the game.

The Coyotes’ goalie misplayed the puck behind his net after Girardi had skimmed it down the ice during a penalty kill, and Brandon Prust stole the puck and slipped it into the net before the scrambling LaBarbera could get set again. The goal -- Prust’s fifth of the season and third shorthanded -- came with 5.1 seconds remaining in the second period.

“A bunch of the guys were saying that was a big goal, and it definitely was because it was huge to go out in the third down one instead of down two,” explained Prust. “It was a good goal to get and it was timely, for sure.”

As has been the case all season long, there won’t be much time to dwell on this exciting victory as the Rangers face another stiff test on Saturday afternoon when they face the Atlantic Division-leading Flyers in Philadelphia.

“Our approach is the same,” said Prust. “We are going to go out and just keep working at it. We’ve learned how we need to play to achieve success.”
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