A wealth of talented prospects in the Rangers organization has made the Blueshirts' future very bright for some time now, so the fact that these determined youngsters are headed to the championship game of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament is hardly a surprise either.
The Blueshirts beat the host Detroit Red Wings prospects 3-2 on Monday night in Traverse City, Mich., to close out the round-robin portion of the tournament with a perfect 3-0 record. That made them the only undefeated team remaining in the eight-team field and set up a showdown with defending champion Columbus in the title game on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Wins over Tampa Bay and Atlanta last weekend had set the stage for a crucial matchup with Detroit. The Wings, clear favorites among the locals, had been drawing the biggest crowds at this tournament, and Monday was no exception. Every seat -- and every bit of standing room -- was occupied for the highly-charged game, and most of the fans went home disappointed – all except the ones wearing Rangers jerseys.
Defenseman Marc Staal
, the Rangers' first-round pick in 2005, and defenseman Michael Sauer
, their second-round pick that year, each had goals for the Blueshirts in a game they never trailed. The other goal was scored by Jordan Owens, a promising, undrafted right wing who is signed to play with the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2007-08 and will attend the Rangers' main training camp when it opens later this week.
Staal scored on an end-to-end rush with only 47 seconds left in the first period to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead, and Owens added a goal early in the second to make it 2-0. Detroit fought back to cut the lead to 2-1, but Sauer restored the two-goal edge in the third period, and one more tally by the Wings was not enough to catch the hottest team in the tournament.
On the evening, the Rangers had outshot the Wings 24-16 and dominated the game despite the narrow margin of victory. Rangers goalie Miika Wiikman needed only 14 saves for the win.
The Rangers outshot Detroit 12-4 in the first period, but it wasn't until the final minute that they finally broke through for a 1-0 lead. Forward Ryan Hillier fed the puck to Staal in his own zone, and the big defenseman, the OHL's Defenseman of the Year last season, sped up ice and beat Detroit goalie Dominic Vicari.
|Center Brandon Dubinsky continued his impressive play in Traverse City on Monday night, getting an assist against Detroit. He now has six points in three tournament games. |
Then, at 5:39 of the second period, Owens scored off assists from Bobby Sanguinetti and Brandon Dubinsky
to make it 2-0. Detroit responded at the 7:30 mark of the second when defenseman Scott Jackson ripped a drive through traffic on a power play, cutting the lead to 2-1.
The Blueshirts stretched their lead to 3-1 at 6:15 of the third period when defenseman Sauer scored his first goal of the season off an assist from Artem Anisimov
, the Russian center who had dominated the Rangers' win over Atlanta on Saturday.
Again, Detroit rallied back to cut the Rangers' lead to one goal. This time it was Jonathan Ericsson scoring on a shot from the point through a screen at 9:36.
That was as close as the Wings would come. Detroit would enjoy a late power play and pull Vicari for a two-man advantage in the closing moments of the third period, but the Rangers staved off the pressure and moved on to the championship game.
Rangers head coach Ken Gernander made only three lineup changes following Saturday afternoon's 5-3 win over Atlanta. Wiikman got the start on Monday, Tomas Zaborsky replaced Joe Barnes at center on the fourth line, and Michael Busto is playing the defense slot manned by Lukas Bohunicky on Saturday.
Gernander is expected to continue rotating goaltenders and use Antoine Lafleur in the championship game on Tuesday, although the starter remains a game-time decision.
In other games on Monday, Columbus beat Dallas 3-1 and Minnesota beat St. Louis 7-3, giving Columbus a berth in the championship game. One year ago, Columbus beat Atlanta to win this tournament.