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Rangers answer bell in sinking Sharks

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers forward Erik Christensen sneaks in past the Sharks defense to accept a pass from Vinny Prospal and tie the score 1-1 at 16:57 of the first period.

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By Jim Cerny,

Three nights after a disappointing loss in Anaheim to start a two-game West Coast road trip, the Rangers responded with one of their most important victories of the season, a 3-2 decision over the San Jose Sharks at the HP Pavilion which was secured after a six-round overtime shootout.

Henrik Lundqvist, who made 31 saves through 65 minutes of action, stopped five of six shots in the shootout, while Brandon Dubinsky scored the winner after Wojtek Wolski extended the shootout by beating Sharks goalie Antti Niemi in the third round with the Rangers trailing 1-0 and on the verge of losing the game.

“It was huge how we responded after that game on Wednesday,” said Lundqvist, who made his 14th consecutive start in goal on Saturday. “We needed to play well, but more importantly we needed the points. And we got both. This was such an important win for us.”

With the two crucial points earned in the victory, the Rangers vaulted past the Buffalo Sabres, who lost earlier on Saturday night, and back into seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings with 76 points. The Rangers are now 11-4 in overtime this season, and 8-2 in games decided by the shootout.

Lundqvist was a major reason why the Rangers reached overtime and were able to secure both points. He stopped all 12 shots in the third period when the visitors were outshot by the Sharks 12-3 and another three during the five-minute overtime period. His lightning-quick glove save on a Jason Demers open one-timer with nine minutes to play in the third was Lundqvist’s best of the night.

“Hank played very, very well for us, and he has to,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “These types of games are going to be ramped up, and, especially in the third period, that’s when we really need Hank. He stood tall tonight.”

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist refuses to let San Jose star Joe Thornton set a screen in front of him on Saturday night. Lundqvist turned in a No. 1 star night, making 31 saves in the Blueshirts' victory over the No. 1 team in the NHL's Pacific Division.
Despite surrendering the first goal of the game in an extremely hostile road environment, the Rangers bounced back to pull even before the first period was over and then grabbed a 2-1 advantage themselves early in the second before seeing San Jose send the game into the final period even on the scoreboard once again.

With Matt Gilroy in the penalty box for a hooking minor, the Sharks opened the scoring at 12:30 of the first when Ryan Clowe was credited with his 22nd goal as his right-wing shot deflected off of Marc Staal and past Lundqvist.

Clowe’s goal had to have given the Rangers a bad sense of déjà vu. In their previous game -- a 5-2 loss in Anaheim on Wednesday -- the Rangers saw three first period goals against go in off of their own players.

“A little bit I thought here we go again,” said Lundqvist. “But then right away I thought just keep going here, refocus. We just needed to keep going. As a team we did a good job. We didn’t change our game. We just kept going.”

Playing a determined physical style, the Rangers collected themselves and tied the contest four minutes later on a goal by Erik Christensen which featured a strong cycling of the puck by the visitors for an extended period behind the Sharks net. Christensen, Vinny Prospal, and Marian Gaborik controlled the puck with an impressive cycle, and defenseman Michael Sauer helped keep the cycle going with a smart pinch along the right-wing boards and a deft kick of the puck back behind the net.

From there Prospal feathered a perfect pass to a well-guarded Christensen, and Christensen was able to fire the puck from ten feet out past Niemi for his 10th goal of the season at 16:54. Christensen, who had been scratched the previous two games, was reinserted into the Rangers’ lineup as Sean Avery was scratched for the first time this season, and Tortorella’s decision paid early dividends.

Rangers forward Brian Boyle gives defenseman Michael Sauer a bg pat on the back after Sauer's second goal of the season at 1:16 of Saturday's second period. The goal put the Rangers up 2-1.
“At the end, whether you get in (to the playoffs) or don’t get in, you’re going to look at games like this where we knew where we stood going into the game and knew we had to respond and play well,” said Christensen. “I know we’re trying not to focus on things outside that we can’t control, but they were staring at us right in the face. Carolina lost today. Buffalo lost. We knew these things before we went on the ice. We wanted to answer the bell because our coaching staff was expecting a lot out of us. And we did that.”

Sauer, the defensive-minded defenseman, played a major offensive role again 1:16 into the second when the Rangers secured their first lead of the night. Correctly reading the play, Sauer alertly darted into the slot where Ruslan Fedotenko whipped a pass from the left corner. Sauer settled the puck just long enough for Brian Boyle to set a screen in front of Niemi, and Sauer wristed his second goal of the season -- and first in 40 games -- into the back of the net.

Derek Stepan came within inches of staking the Rangers to a two-goal lead with eight minutes to play in the middle stanza, but a great defensive play by San Jose’s Justin Braun negated that.  Stepan’s quick right-wing wrist shot snuck through Niemi’s pads and rolled towards the goal line. But at the last possible second, Braun swept the puck off the goal line and the score remained 2-1.

That clutch play by Braun loomed even larger when San Jose’s Ben Eager -- off yet another deflection -- tied the game at 16:26 of the second. Torrey Mitchell’s left-point slap shot deflected three times -- the last one off Eager’s stick -- to pinball past Lundqvist for the tying goal.

Although San Jose had a clear edge in the play in the third period, the Rangers -- behind Lundqvist’s stellar performance -- were able to find a way to grab both available points, points that were finalized when Dubinsky’s first career shootout goal went into the net.

“We knew how big it was with the other teams that lost tonight and where we’re at in the standings,” said Dubinsky. “It was a huge two points. We understood that we had to get back to who we are against a much better team in San Jose. We had to be that hard-working team that’s tough to play against, and we did that right from the get-go.”

With a split of their West Coast trip, the Rangers now head back home where four of their next five games -- starting with Tuesday’s tilt against the Islanders -- will be played at Madison Square Garden.
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