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Rangers go distance for big road win

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Erik Christensen was all smiles after the Rangers won on the strength of his shootout goal. He said the team was determined not to let either one of the possible standings points get away from them.

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A weary group of Rangers, playing their third road game in four nights and ninth overall in the past 14 days, trudged into Nashville on Saturday night expecting a boost to their lineup with the return of veteran Michal Rozsival after a nine-game injury absence.

While Rozsival’s fresh legs did provide a tired team a lift, the Rangers’ depth was further stretched when Marian Gaborik was unable to play due to the flu, causing head coach John Tortorella to dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards for the first time this season.

Despite their imperfect situation, the Rangers battled the Predators all night before eventually securing a huge 2-1 victory, in a game decided by the shootout, at Bridgestone Arena.

“We talked about it in our (pregame) meeting that if we want to get to where we want to be at the end of the year, this is the kind of game -- last of a road trip, coming off a big win, played a lot of games in this stretch here -- we have to find a way to win,” said Tortorella. “These are the points at the end of the year that kill you if you don’t get them. It was a good gut-check for us in getting points that we needed to get.”

Erik Christensen scored the only goal of the shootout, beating Pekka Rinne with a great deke and forehand score. And Henrik Lundqvist stopped all three Predators shots in the shootout, including a glove save on Martin Erat’s last-ditch attempt in the third round, to secure the victory, the Rangers' seventh in their last ten games.

“We took the pre-game message to heart, I thought,” said Christensen. “We did a good job not letting this game get away.”

Blanked for the first 53 minutes and four seconds, the Rangers tied the Predators 1-1 with 6:56 left to play in the third period. Ryan Callahan scored his seventh goal -- on a rebound into the slot of Michael Del Zotto’s shot -- and the Rangers were finally able to solve Predators goalie Pekka Rinne who had been working on his third shutout of the season.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who finished the night with 29 saves, said he was particularly pleased to go 3-for-3 in shootout stops as he helped the team win its first shootout of the 2010-11 season.
Callahan’s goal forced the eventual overtime period, something that has become commonplace for the Predators this season. Nashville has played nine home games and six of them have carried into overtime. It was the Predators’ eighth overtime game overall this season.

The Rangers were forced to chase the Predators from behind on the scoreboard nearly all game long after Colin Wilson beat Henrik Lundqvist 5:10 into the first period. On the goal, Wilson made a strong move to the net, burling past defenseman Dan Girardi before firing a 10-foot shot into the cage for his third goal of the season.

“We fell behind early, but we didn’t stop working,” said Christensen. “I thought we took over for stretches of the game.”

It seemed for a quick moment as if the Rangers had tied the game at 8:52 of the opening period when a centering pass deflected off Christensen’s foot and into the Predators net. But the referees immediately waved the goal off, ruling that Christensen had kicked the puck past Rinne.

Christensen was one of several Rangers jumping from line to line due to the absence of Gaborik and Derek Boogaard, who was also sidelined with a shoulder injury. One of the best players on the ice for either team, Christensen owned two of the Rangers’ best scoring chances, coming in rapid-fire succession on the power play midway through the second period, but was denied each time on the doorstep by Rinne.

“He played pretty well all night, and for him to get the shootout goal, good for him,” Tortorella said of Christensen.

Veteran Todd White also saw a bump in ice time and opportunity, and defenseman Matt Gilroy played some shifts at forward as Tortorella tried to create successful combinations up front in an attempt to generate more offense.

Gilroy was involved in several good scoring chances, although they came from his usual defense position and not at forward. And White had a pair of prime chances to score from in-tight during a first-period sequence, with his first kicked out by Rinne and the second shot just wide of the cage.

Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky more than made up for the absence of an ailing Marian Gaborik by logging a remarkable 25:44 of ice time and getting an assist on Ryan Callahan's goal to force overtime.
Although they were a physically and tired team, the Rangers showed that they were ready to battle when first Sean Avery and then Brandon Prust engaged in spirited fights during the first period. Avery battled Jordin Tootoo, and Prust engaged Shane O’Brien.

One night after stopping all 40 shots in a 3-0 shutout win over the Panthers in Florida, Lundqvist was sharp again, allowing only Wilson’s early goal. Lundqvist finished with 29 saves, including a terrific stop on Erat’s breakaway 4:10 into the opening period and a point-blank chance by O’Brien 2:30 into overtime.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself (in shootouts) because I want to help the team get that extra point,” said Lundqvist. “Last season showed that extra point can be huge. To come up with all three stops in the shootout felt really good for me.”

As for Rozsival, Tortorella kept to his word that the veteran defenseman would slip right back into his normal role. Paired with Marc Staal to start the game, Rozsival played his usual even-strength minutes as well as on the second power-play unit, totaling more than 20 minutes.

Rozsival did not kill penalties on Saturday night, however, as his teammates continued their strong work on the PK, denying the Predators on all three of their power play opportunities.

The Rangers now head home and, after a day off Sunday, return to action Monday night when they host the Penguins at Madison Square Garden.
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