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Rangers find the post instead of points

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi fires a shot toward the New Jersey goal in front of Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk during the first period on Thursday. With less than a second left in the game, another Girardi shot deflected by forward Brandon Dubinsky came within inches of sending the game into overtime.

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The Rangers could not have come any closer to erasing a three-goal deficit and forcing overtime on Thursday night against the Devils at Madison Square Garden. However, Brandon Dubinsky’s redirection of a Dan Girardi pass caught a piece of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur and then hit the post behind him with less than a second remaining in regulation, and the Rangers instead dropped a 3-2 decision to their rivals from New Jersey.

With goaltender Martin Biron pulled for an extra attacker, the Rangers were able to win a battle for a loose puck deep in the Devils’ zone as the game clock wound down to single digits. Marian Gaborik slid the puck to Girardi along the half-wall on right wing, and Girardi in turn whipped a desperation pass in the slot to Dubinsky who deflected the disc past a sprawling Brodeur, unfortunately catching iron instead of net with 0.9 of a second remaining to play.

“It was a tough break, but we can’t spot them a 3-0 lead,” said Dubinsky. “We have to find a way to cash in on a couple opportunities and get the lead, and not fall down 3-0. It’s frustrating, that’s for sure.”

Games between the Rangers and Devils usually revolve around the great goaltending matchup of Henrik Lundqvist vs. Martin Brodeur. However, on Thursday Lundqvist struggled, allowing three goals on 12 shots before being pulled in favor of Biron late in the second period, while Brodeur stopped 25 of 27 shots from the Blueshirts, who have gone 0-2-1 in their last three games.

“I think we played well enough the last three games to get five out of the six points,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Let’s call a spade a spade, our goaltending hasn’t been there, certainly not at the level it needs to be at this time of year.”

After the game Lundqvist, who surrendered a goal to Ilya Kovalchuk on the first shot he faced 64 seconds into the game and then allowed two more in the second period, concurred with the assessment put forth by his head coach.

A very happy Vinny Prospal is congratulated at the Blueshirts' bench after scoring a goal in his first game back from an injury that sidelined him for the team's first 53 games. Prospal's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the third period cut New Jersey's lead to 3-2.
“In the end, I have to be better and more focused,” said Lundqvist. “I’m upset for not playing better. We created chances and played hard, but it was a tough night for me.”

While Lundqvist surely was not at his best on Thursday, the Devils also deserve much credit for completely shutting down the neutral zone for the first half of the game -- taking a page from coach Jacques Lemaire’s playbook circa 1995 -- and scoring three opportunistic goals.

“They feed off the turnovers in the neutral zone, and we gave them a couple turnovers which ended up in our net,” said Vinny Prospal, who made his season debut and scored a goal for the Rangers. “That’s where they won the game, because they stopped us in the neutral zone and we couldn’t get the puck in too deep. That’s the way they always play under Jacques Lemaire.”

The Devils added to Kovalchuk’s first-period tally with goals from Dainius Zubrus off the rush 8:01 into the second and Brian Rolston following a Mats Zuccarello turnover at the Blueshirts’ blueline seven minutes later.

Rolston’s long slap shot hit Lundqvist’s stick and shot straight into the top of the net. As Lundqvist stared at The Garden’s ceiling, Biron reached for his mask and hopped over the boards to take his place in goal.

“Hank has to be our guy, and he will be our guy,” said Tortorella. “But he hasn’t been these last three games. I’m not calling out Hank. I am just being honest with the hockey club. Our goaltending has not been good enough.”

As has been the case all season long, the Rangers refused to give in, even when they were trailing a strong defensive team by three goals. Ryan Callahan provided the home team some life by netting his 12th goal -- and second in two games since returning from a broken hand -- with 3:35 remaining in the middle period.

Rangers forward Artem Anisimov looks to deflect a shot past New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur on Thursday night. Brodeur finished with 25 saves in the Devils' first win over the Rangers this season.
Callahan scored off the rush from a similar poor angle on right wing as did Kovalchuk in the first period.

When Prospal -- who missed the first 53 games this season following October knee surgery -- banked a shot in off Devils defenseman Andy Greene during a 5-on-3 Rangers’ power play 2:21 into the final period the Rangers were right back in the game.

An elated Prospal dropped to his knees and pumped his arms in celebration after scoring for the first time since last April 7 against the Maple Leafs at MSG, and The Garden Faithful saluted him with a long and loud ovation.

“I have been out a long time and there were times that I didn’t know how all this would turn out,” said Prospal. “I always wanted to come back, and that (goal) was like a payback for all the time I spent in rehab and wondering if this day would come. It felt great.”

Energized, the Rangers went on to outshoot the Devils 15-2 in the third period, but Prospal’s goal would be the only one the home team would score. When Brodeur caught just enough of Dubinsky’s deflection to angle it into the post in the final second of the game, it was the third piece of iron the Rangers had struck on the night.

“We came close, but maybe our comeback was a little too late,” said Girardi. “I think our effort was there, especially late. But we have to make sure we play like that the whole game.”

The Rangers will look to get back on the winning track Saturday afternoon when they travel up to Montreal to face the Canadiens. From there the Rangers will head to Detroit to face-off with the Red Wings on Monday night.
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