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Power drain ends comeback hopes

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers backup goaltender Martin Biron had a strong performance in stopping 20 of 21 shots against the Blues, including 14 in the first period. Biron drew praise from head coach John Tortorella.

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Desperate to catch a break against the air-tight defensive play of the St. Louis Blues Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers believed that their moment had arrived at the 7:25 mark of the third period.

At that momemt, St. Louis’ B.J. Crombeen was sent to the penalty box to serve a five-minute boarding major, handing the Rangers a prime opportunity to erase a 1-0 deficit and swing the game back into their favor.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, the moment passed as St. Louis deftly killed-off the five-minute power-play, effectively finishing off the Blueshirts, who ended up being shut out for the first time this season, 2-0.

“We need to cash in there, obviously,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said following the game. “On that five-minute power play I thought we lost a number of battles. They’re a very aggressive team killing penalties and we couldn’t come up with possession and then lost some battles.”

Turned away repeatedly in the neutral zone and at the attacking blueline throughout the night, the Rangers finally worked the puck deep into the Blues zone only to have Derek Stepan crushed into the back boards by Crombeen on the play that led to the five-minute power play for the home team.

Stepan was slow to get up, and a melee nearly broke out as Brandon Dubinsky charged after Crombeen before being intercepted by a linesman. But when Stepan got up and headed to the bench, and the major penalty was doled out to Crombeen, the Rangers realized they had been given a lifeline by the Blues.

Five minutes later, the Rangers wore the collective look of frustration after being limited to three shots on goal while seeing their big chance slip away.

“Obviously we need to score on a five-minute power play,” said alternate captain Marc Staal. “We had a couple of chances, but it just didn’t happen for us. We needed to create more consistent pressure on them, tire them out, and get more chances that way.”

Staal had one of the three shots during that power play, all of which were stopped by the Blues backup goaltender Ty Conklin, who was making only his second start of the season. Like Staal, defenseman Michael Del Zotto also uncorked a strong slap shot on net during the power play; and Stepan recorded the third shot, one from the side of the net and about 10 feet away.

Rangers center Artem Anisimov had the best scoring chance of a five-minute Blueshirts power play in the third period, but his shot went just wide of the space left open by St. Louis goaltender Ty Conklin.
The Rangers’ best chance to score came three minutes into the major penalty when Artem Anisimov collected a loose puck in front of the crease with Conklin down, but his rushed shot hit the side of the cage.

“We had some chances, some scoring opportunities, but we certainly did not have possession of the puck as much as we wanted to,” said Dubinsky.

The Blues’ strong shut-down play during the penalty kill was symbolic of their play all night long. Conklin finished with 27 saves to record his 15th career shutout, but his teammates did a terrific job winning battles for the puck and denying the Rangers easy entry into the offensive zone all game long.

“This is how St. Louis wins games,” Tortorella said of the Blues, who own an NHL-best 9-1-2 record. “We certainly did not get enough good looks out there.”

A debatable call went against the Rangers late in the first period, denying them an apparent goal by Alex Frolov. The officials ruled that St. Louis had deflected a clearing pass by the Rangers with a high stick, and when Conklin next touched the puck, the play was ruled dead, though a whistle was not blown immediately.

Frolov jumped on the loose puck and fired it between Conklin’s pads with 1:56 to play in the opening period, but the referee waved off the score immediately.

“It wasn’t high-sticking, but it’s a tough call for the ref,” said Tortorella. “It’s a bang-bang call. It’s not why we lost.”

While Conklin was solid in goal for the Blues, Martin Biron excelled at the other end of the ice for the Rangers, allowing only Alex Steen’s rising shot off a 3-on-2 rush 5:16 into the second period to beat him. Steen added an empty-net goal with 3.9 seconds remaining in the game.

“I felt good out there,” said Biron, who made 20 saves in making his third start of the season. “We did not play a bad game, but I thought we were just a half-step slow.”

Tortorella was pleased with Biron, saying afterwards, “I was happy with his game.”

Biron was most impressive during the first period when he stopped all 14 shots he faced, as the Rangers struggled against the quick-skating Blues. The Blueshirts settled down after that opening 20 minutes and Biron faced only nine more shots the remainder of the game.

But the Rangers could not generate enough offense, and as a result they dropped the opener to their four-game homestand, falling to 2-4-1 on home ice this season.

“We did not play a solid enough 60 minutes tonight,” said Dubinsky. “We didn’t get enough scoring chances in order to win.”

The Rangers continue their longest homestand of the season on Tuesday night when they host Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
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