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Prospects get taste of Murphy's Law

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
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By Dan David,

Hockey history has shown that the most important player in a short-format tournament is usually the goaltender.

The game's history has also shown that teams that "get the bounces" usually win.

On Sunday evening, in their second game at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Mich., the New York Rangers prospects didn't have the hottest goalie on the ice and they didn't get the bounces either.

The result was a 1-0 victory for the Carolina Hurricanes prospects in a game the Rangers otherwise dominated. The Blueshirts outshot the 'Canes 33-26 and outskated them for much of the night. Rangers netminder Cam Talbot, making his first Traverse City start, was also outstanding with 25 saves. Unfortunately, Carolina netminder Mike Murphy performed beyond the outstanding level, as none of the 33 Rangers shots crossed the goal line.

Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot, who signed with the team last spring, made a big impression with 25 saves, including many made through heavy traffic.
Murphy knows a little something about playing well in Traverse City. He was part of the Carolina team that won last year's tournament championship and needed only to look up at the banner above center ice at David's Rink on Sunday to be reminded of that. The 21-year-old from Kingston, Ontario, who played 20 AHL games with the Albany River Rats last season, was spectacular, putting on a show that demonstrated how fortunate the 'Canes were to have picked him up in Round 6 of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

"He played awesome," Rangers winger Ryan Bourque said of Murphy. "I didn't even know his name, actually, but I knew he was the CHL Goaltender of the Yar two years ago (with the Belleville Bulls), so he would be a very tough goalie to get the puck through."

Murphy played well enough to keep his team in the game all the way to the end, and with 56.8 seconds remaining in the third period, the guys in front of him forged the game-winning goal off an odd-man rush.

"Both goalies were great, but their goalie stole the game for them," said Rangers defenseman Dylan McIlrath, the Blueshirts' 2010 first-round draft pick. "We deserved to win, I think, because we outplayed them."

Rangers prospects captain Ryan McDonagh, who joined the organization after a standout college career at Wisconsin, agreed with his defense partner McIlrath.

"I don't think anybody on our team didn't give it their all or anything," McDonagh said. "We were all playing hard, and it's just unfortunate that we couldn't get one by the goalie, because I think if we had gotten one, we could have had a lot more."

The back-breaker came from Carolina center Zac Dalpe, a former Ohio State star drafted by the Hurricanes in the second round two years ago. Dalpe took a quick pass from Czech defenseman Michal Jordan to cap off a 4-on-2 rush up the ice after a turnover by the Rangers in the offensive zone. Carolina defenseman Kyle Lawson also picked up an assist on the opportunistic play.

"I thought for sure when that guy (Lawson) passed it across that he (Jordan) was going to one-time it, so I came sliding across, but he put it back on me, back through the crease," said Talbot. "They just executed that 4-on-2 perfectly, and there was not much we can do there. It was back-door, and it ended up just being a little tap-in for him (Dalpe)."

It was an unfortunate ending to a great game by Talbot, who made nine saves in both the second and third periods and was truly at his best over the final 20 minutes. The 23-year-old Caledonia, Ontario, native spent the past three seasons at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Despite coming from a low-profile college program, he made a very high-profile impression in his Traverse City debut.

"I thought Talbot played an unbelievable game, too, and I think it (the game-winner) was our mistake as players and no fault of Talbot," said Bourque. "It was a goalie's duel. I don't even remember the last time I played in a game that ended 1-0, but it was obviously a frustrating game."

Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, agreed that Murphy's goaltending was the difference.

"The goaltending was really solid at both ends," Clark said. "This was the first time that a lot of people in the Rangers organization had seen Talbot, and he came up with a number of big saves. Down at the other end, we were just taking shot after shot. We had breakaways from (Derek) Stepan and (Christian) Thomas and he stopped those. ... If Murphy doesn't throw that game at us, we were carrying most of the play the whole night."

In losing to the Hurricanes for the second straight year at Traverse City, the Rangers saw their four-game tournament winning streak -- dating back to the last loss to Carolina -- come to an end. That streak had included three wins to close the 2009 tournament and Saturday's opening 5-4 victory over Columbus, which came down to a goal by Evgeny Grachev with 6.1 seconds to go.

The Rangers can still win the Gretzky Division championship if they beat Minnesota on Tuesday afternoon and Carolina falls to Columbus in the night game. On Sunday, Minnesota improved to 2-0-0 by beating the Blue Jackets 5-1. If either Minnesota or Carolina wins on Tuesday, one of those teams would play for first place on Wednesday night and the Rangers would not get the chance to win their first Traverse City title since 2007.

Rangers winger Ryan Bourque skated on the top line with Evgeny Grachev and Derek Stepan for the second straight game, but even the trio that lit up Columbus for eight points on Saturday was unable to get the puck past Carolina's hot goaltender.
"We've got to come back and focus on Minnesota and getting that win," said Bourque. "They're the top team in our division right now, so if we pull out a victory there, we could put ourselves in pretty good position. There just wasn't much going on in this game tonight. It was frustrating to get things going, and there was a lot of power plays and a lot of penalty kills, so that kind of slowed the game down. It was a goalie's duel and we peppered him there for a bit, but we just couldn't get anything by (Murphy)."

Ken Gernander, the Hartford Wolf Pack head coach serving as head coach of the Rangers prospects team, said the final outcome was a disappointment, but the young team made some important strides as well.

"It's a short-term tournament, so we're going to stay positive," said Gernander. "We hit some posts, and we had some breakaways and some offensive opportunities, but we didn't capitalize. It's not a minor mistake, but it was an awareness mistake at the end. In a tie game with a minute to go we've got to have a third man (back), but we didn't. But from the perspective of talent or skill or competitiveness, I think the players did all right."

While Murphy -- the best penalty-killer on the ice -- was able to limit the Rangers prospects to a disappointing 0-for-7 showing on the power play, bad bounces were an even bigger obstacle. In perhaps the most telling moment of the game, Rangers defenseman Jyri Niemi missed a scoring opportunity late in the second period when a shot from the right faceoff circle caught Murphy flush in the facemask.

Niemi's oh-so-close shot came during a power play as time was about to expire in the period. Prior to walking in from the point for his shot that hit Murphy's mask, Niemi, who was obtained from the Islanders in an off-season trade, had fired at least two long, hard drives that Murphy had sticked aside.

"It's just one of those nights where you just can't find the net," said alternate captain Derek Stepan, who had four points against Columbus on Saturday. "We played well, but we hit a couple of pipes and had a couple of broken sticks. A couple of wobbling pucks at the last second. The hockey gods were not on our side tonight, unfortunately, and that's just the way hockey is. You can never really figure it out, but that's the way it is. You win one game with six ticks of the clock left, and then you lose another with 56 ticks left. So it's just the way the game goes, and unfortunately, we came out on the short end."

Despite being overshadowed by Murphy's heroics, a number of Rangers prospects managed to shine in the loss. Chief among them was Talbot, who got a lot of help from his defensemen early on before settling down to make some eye-popping saves, including a pad stop that thwarted a pretty Carolina redirection in the third period.

"I felt like I was seeing the puck really well. I felt focused and I was in it from the start," said Talbot, who signed with the Rangers as an undrafted free agent last spring. "It really helps when our guys keep their first shots to the outside and let me feel I'm seeing the puck right off the bat. It was definitely a little quicker (than college). These boys can really move the puck and everybody always seems to be in the right places. The puck does most of the work and these guys know how to get to the right place at the right time."

Other standouts on Sunday were McIlrath, the Blueshirts' 2010 first-round draft pick, and Lee Baldwin, another undrafted player who signed with the Rangers after his college season at Alaska-Anchorage ended last spring.

McIlrath made some outstanding plays in his own end, including one after breaking his stick in the third period. On that play, the stickless McIlrath checked Carolina first-rounder Jeff Skinner into the boards and then came back to clear the zone with a hand pass to one of the Rangers forwards.

"McIlrath had two major 2-on-1's against them and he handled them really well," said Clark. "That's what we're looking for in this kind of a tournament. Some players are going to show you if they have a shot at pushing somebody in the NHL camp, and the other guys are just showing you that they're taking steps towards dealing with the pace and getting better, because they are only 18 years old."

McIlrath's defensive play showed some improvement from another solid performance in the win over Columbus.

"I did feel more comfortable after just getting my feet wet in that last game in trying to figure out the pace," said McIlrath. "In this game, I was a little bit more in my comfort zone and just took it from there and played my role."

McIlrath also drew praise from the team captain.

Rangers 2010 third-round draft pick Andrew Yogan created some nice scoring opportunities, particularly with his backhand, but he was one of several players who hit the post in what proved to be a game of inches against Carolina goaltender Mike Murphy.
"I like him a lot," McDonagh said of his pairing with McIlrath. "He's a good kid to play with. He's solid, and I like that he talks a lot out there on the ice. I think we complement each other pretty well."

Baldwin, meanwhile, played a strong defensive game and showed his ability to deliver hits. After signing with the Rangers, Baldwin ended last season with a strong seven-game stint at Hartford. He made his Traverse City debut on Sunday.

"Tonight was the first game for Baldwin, and I thought he was outstanding in the first period, especially. He had a really good game. He's very mobile, passes the puck very, very well, and he hits," said Clark.

Clark also singled out forward Jason Wilson, a 2010 draftee from the OHL's Owen Sound Attack, for his physical performance on Sunday. Wilson engaged in the game's lone fight in the first period against Carolina's Matt Kennedy and got the better of his opponent.

"I liked Wilson's game," said Clark. "Wilson is a player that combines a real physical game with some skill, and that's what you saw tonight from him. (Kennedy) didn't like the fact that Wilson hit him, so they had a scrap and he did really well in the scrap. And then he got a breakaway later on, but the puck got underneath the wrong part of his stick and it went over the net."

The prospects return to action for what looms as a very big game on Tuesday afternoon against Minnesota, and even though they might not control their own destiny as far as winning a championship, Clark said the players are holding their own in the eyes of the Rangers scouts.

"That's what this is all about," Clark said of the evaluation process. "Of course we want to win every game here, but we also want to know what we have coming for the future. We'll sit down after this and talk about how many years we think each guy is away from being ready for the NHL. That's when we can start to get an idea of when they might be playing for the New York Rangers."

In Sunday's other games, played in the tournament's Howe Division, Dallas overwhelmed St. Louis 4-1, and Tampa Bay stunned tournament host Detroit 4-3 in an overtime shootout that lasted a remarkable 17 rounds. The Rangers prospects, already dressed and scheduled to leave the arena on the team bus, stayed to watch the entire Tampa Bay-Detroit shootout from behind the Red Wings goal.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Ryan Bourque Derek Stepan Evgeny Grachev
Brendan Shinnimin Ethan Werek Christian Thomas
Andrew Yogan Kelsey Tessier Chris McKelvie
Jason Wilson Roman Horak Randy McNaught
Left Defense Right Defense
Ryan McDonagh Dylan McIlrath
Lee Baldwin Brandon Manning
Jyri Niemi Tomas Kundratek
Goaltenders: Cam Talbot, Scott Stacjer

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