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The Rangers' remarkable run at the 2009 Traverse City Prospects tournament might have ended in a third-place finish, but there was no doubt that they left Michigan on Thursday night as the hottest team on the ice.
After all, the Blueshirts were the only team to finish the tournament with three straight wins, and their only loss came against the eventual champion Carolina Hurricanes in the tournament opener, when they hadn't yet fully come together as a team.
|Evgeny Grachev |
Thursday night's 5-4 win over the St. Louis Blues was a perfect ending to the tournament for the team of Rangers prospects ranging in age from 18 to 24. Refusing to go down without a battle, the Blueshirts came back from a 3-2 deficit with three goals in the final 5:36 of a very chippy, fight-filled evening.
With their comeback victory, the Blueshirts managed their second-best finish at the tournament, apart from having won won it all in Traverse City two years ago.
Luke Walker and Evgeny Grachev were the heroes on Thursday, scoring the crucial goals that gave the Rangers the lead for good. Team captain Dale Weise sealed the win with an empty-netter. As it turned out, Weise's goal stood up as the game-winner when the Blues scored with one second left on the clock.
“He showed why he was the team captain tonight, creating a number of scoring chances and
delivering solid hits," Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark said of Weise. "He salted the game away in the closing seconds, out-skating and outmuscling two St. Louis players to score the empty netter.”
Overall, the Rangers outshot the Blues 43-31. The Rangers dominated the third period, outshooting the Blues 17-12. Scott Stajcer
, a Rangers 2009 fifth-round draft pick, made 27 saves for the win.
|Luke Walker |
Walker, who had two goals and three points in Wednesday's win over Detroit, was a remarkable plus-3 on Thursday and finished among the tournament's top 10 scoring leaders with five points.
The son of former Rangers player Gord Walker
, Luke delivered the tying goal at 14:24 of the third period off assists from linemates Roman Horak and Daniel Bartek, to set the stage for Grachev's go-ahead score, which was the big Russian forward's second of the game.
“They (Walker, Horak and Bartek) played well throughout the tournament, supplying a consistent dose of speed, skill and goals,” said Clark.
Grachev's tally, at the 15:58 mark of the third, came just 94 seconds after Walker tied it. Weise and Paul Crowder assisted on the Grachev goal.
Weise added his empty-net goal at 19:26 to seal the victory, even though the Blues made it a 5-4 final on Anthony Peluso's score at 19:59 of the third.
The big rally began when 2009 draftee Roman Horak, stationed behind the St. Louis net, passed the puck out in front to Walker, who banged it from the crease for the tying goal.
Grachev then completed the comeback by making it 4-3, Weise set up the goal when he fired a shot wide, and the rebound came back out front to Grachev.
“The top players came to play tonight," said Clark. "Grachev scored two big-time goals, and once again dominated with his dynamic combination of strength and skill.”
Tied 2-2 after two periods, the Blues went ahead on early in the third when Brett Sonne scored at 2:24. The goal, off a loose puck in front of the Blueshirts' net, came just 21 seconds after the Rangers' Sam Klassen
fought St. Louis' Chris Morehouse, which was the second of the game's three fights.
The chippy game saw its final fight at 12:24 of the third, when Rangers defenseman Tysen Dowzak challenged Leigh Salters at 12:24, after Salters had leveled Kundratek behind the Blueshirts goal.
Ethan Werek, the Blueshirts' second-round draft pick in 2009, gave the Blueshirts their first lead of the game at 12:57 of the second period when he capped off a two-goal Rangers outburst over a 2:03 span to make it 2-1.
On Werek's goal, Klassen, a defenseman, fed Bartek at the blueline after a St. Louis giveaway in the neutral zone. Bartek then slipped a nice pass inside the blueline to Werek, as the 18-year-old drove to the net for the score.
Grachev, one of the dominant players in this year's tournament, had earlier tied the score at 10:54 of the middle period off assists from Horak and Craig Cunningham.
St. Louis, however, came back to knot the score at 2-2 with 2:59 remaining in the second. Tyler Shattock got the Blues' goal from Adam Perry and Brett Ponich. Shattock fooled Stajcer with a low shot.
Up until the late second-period scoring outburst, the game had been a goaltending battle between the Rangers' Stajcer and the Blues' Jake Allen, the Blues' 2008 second-round pick, who made a big stop on a Crowder partial breakaway in the middle period.
Through 40 minutes, the Rangers had outshot the Blues 26-19, but Allen was the difference with 24 stops -- 15 of those in the second period alone.
Only one goal was scored in the first period. Jake Coombs beat Stajcer to give St. Louis an early lead at 3:08.
Shots on goal in the first period were even at 9-9.
The game's fight broke out at the end of the opening period between Rangers prospect Justin Soryal and St. Louis' Ponich. Soryal, who also received a cross-checking minor of the play, was the decisive winner of the fight.
The Rangers dressed 12 forwards and six defensemen with blueliners Mike Berube and Mitch Gaulton both scratched.
Although he didn't record any points in the game, defenseman Michael Del Zotto
had a big hand in the victory and drew kudos from Clark.
“He controlled the puck all night, and logged playoff-type minutes," Clark said of Del Zotto.
Another key to the Rangers' success in Traverse City was the team's penalty-killing, which went a near-perfect 21-for-22 in the tournament's four games.
In other placement games on Thursday, Atlanta beat Columbus 5-4 in an overtime shootout to finish seventh, and the host Detroit Red Wings beat Dallas 4-1 to finish fifth.
In the final game of the tournament, Carolina defeated Minnesota 4-0 for its first Traverse City title.