|With their shot-blocking and defensive play at Toronto on Thursday, Dan Girardi and the Rangers left Dion Phaneuf and the previously high-flying Maple Leafs with nowhere to go on their home ice.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
If there has been one recurring theme for the Rangers over the first four games of the season it is that the team needs to find a way to avoid lapses and put together a complete 60-minute effort.
On Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, the Rangers accomplished just that in defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1.
Strong on the puck and smart with it in all three zones for all three periods, the Rangers rode the goaltending of Martin Biron
in his Blueshirts’ debut, and a pair of first-period goals from Ruslan Fedotenko
and Artem Anisimov
, to their first victory in four games.
“I definitely think this was our most complete effort yet,” said defenseman Dan Girardi
, who recorded six of the Rangers’ robust total of 30 blocked shots on the night. “We were really hard on the forecheck and strong in the defensive zone. You can just see here how hard everyone worked. I really think it was a strong 60-minute effort, and it’s going to take another 77 of those this year to get us into the playoffs.”
The opening 20 minutes of play just might have been the Rangers’ best in five games played this season. Not only did they outscore Toronto 2-0 and outshoot them 15-8, the visitors dominated play in the neutral zone, an area deemed vital by head coach John Tortorella.
“It wasn’t just our (defensemen), our forwards did a good job as far as pressuring their D inside their blueline and kept re-attacking,” said Tortorella. “We jammed that neutral zone, and the neutral zone is a huge part of the game, especially against that offense. I thought we did a really good job with that.”
The Rangers played a smart and selfless style, as evidenced by their 13 blocked shots in the first period -- three alone by Michael Del Zotto
. It rippled through all four line combinations and all three defense pairings, and was backstopped by Biron, who seemed to provide a calming effect on his teammates with his solid play in goal.
Without much, flair Biron, who finished with 24 saves, kicked out three straight screened shots in the latter stages of a Toronto power play in the first period, setting the tone for his night. When he was forced to make the flashier save, he did, that, too, stoning both Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel from point-blank range during a second period in which the Maple Leafs picked up their play, but the Rangers refused to panic or make the big mistake.
“There were butterflies before the game, but you come in after two periods up 2-0 and that definitely helps a lot,” Biron said of being a bit nervous in his first start of the season. “After that it was about sticking to my routine and sticking to the game plan as a goalie, and good things happened from that point on.”
Biron lost his shutout bid with 8:56 to play in the third period when Colby Armstrong banged the puck past him after it pinballed off two other bodies in front.
Less than a minute later, with Toronto skating on the power play, Biron made a game-saving stop with his right pad, denying Kris Versteeg on a breakaway.
“It was a huge, huge save by Marty, and he played a great game,” said Del Zotto, who blocked a team-high seven shots. “He did a great job coming in and making big saves and giving us the chance to win.”
After that important save by Biron, the Rangers settled down and put the clamps on the surging Maple Leafs the rest of the way, perhaps the most impressive single aspect of their victory.
|Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who grew up in the Toronto area, had a big homecoming in front of his family on Thursday night by contributing a game-high seven blocked shots to help the Rangers fly past Clarke MacArthur and the Leafs. |
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“I thought we protected the lead aggressively,” said Tortorella. “The building was alive and we still had a number of minutes to play, and I thought we kept our composure. We did a really good job there.”
Fedotenko, who had a game-high five shots on goal, opened the scoring for the Blueshirts at the 16:11 mark of the first period off a gritty goal-mouth scramble. After Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson made a save on Derek Stepan
’s tricky shot, the puck snuck behind him and lay just in front of the goal line. Both Fedotenko and Sean Avery
crashed forward to beat the two Maple Leafs’ defensemen to the puck, with Fedotenko able to push it into the back of the net for his first goal as a Ranger.
The Rangers scored again 61 seconds later when Anisimov knocked Michal Rozsival’s perfect pass through the crease into the cage for his second of the season, handing the visitors a well-deserved two-goal advantage.
Although they pressed hard for the all-important third goal, the Rangers were unable to hit the back of the net again. Matt Gilroy came the closest to doing so when his wrist shot off a 3-on-1 rush with Brandon Prust
and Alexander Frolov caromed off the crossbar midway through the second period.
But despite getting that knockout punch, the Rangers were still able to finish off their most complete game of the young season, so far, to improve their record to 2-2-1 heading into Boston for Saturday night’s contest with the Bruins.
“We set a high mark (Thursday) and that is going to have to be the mark we reach every game,” said Biron. “I think we have to challenge one another to get to that point.”