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Rangers Hold Off Wings, Will Play for Third

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

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With two straight victories at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, the Rangers ended round-robin play as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference division of the eight-team event in Traverse City, Mich.

Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, their opening-game loss to Carolina cost them a chance to play for the title on Thursday. Instead, the Rangers prospects will go for third place against St. Louis after beating Detroit 4-3 in the round-robin finale on Wednesday night.

Chad Johnson
Champions of the tournament in 2007, the Rangers can nail down their second-best Traverse City finish by beating the Blues in the third-place game on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET. Carolina will face Minnesota for the championship at 6:30 p.m.

The Rangers go into the third-place game on a roll, having outscored their opponents 8-4 in their two wins over Atlanta on Labor Day and the Wings on Wednesday.

Against the Wings, the Blueshirts built up a 4-0 lead through two periods and held on for the win after allowing Detroit's third goal with just 24 seconds remaining in the third.

Rangers goalie Chad Johnson, obtained in an off-season trade with Pittsburgh, was the hero in net, stopping 32 shots for his second straight victory. The Wings outshot the Rangers 35-28.

Johnson, a 2009 Hobey Baker Award Finalist at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, was at his best in the middle period, when he stopped all 14 Red Wings shots to preserve a four-goal lead going into the second intermission.

“He was excellent once again," Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark said of Johnson. "Chad was very sharp tonight, stopping 20 top scoring chances. One of those saves was a penalty shot by Johan Ryno (of Detroit) that never had a chance of getting by him.”

Luke Walker
The other star for the Rangers was undrafted free agent Luke Walker, who had two goals and an assist. Walker, the son of former Rangers player Gord Walker, is competing in the Traverse City tournament on a tryout basis and is not yet under contract to any team for 2009-10. He spent last season playing in the Western Hockey League.

Walker's second goal, scored in the second period, stood up as the winner in giving the Rangers a 4-0 lead. He scored the goal on a sharp wrister high to the glove side of Detroit goalie Chris Whitley after streaking down the right wing. Justin Soryal, who fed Walker for the goal, got the primary assist with Mitch Gaulton getting the other.

The Rangers came into the second period with a 2-0 lead after Daniel Bartek and Walker both scored in the opening 20 minutes, which saw the Blueshirts outshoot the Wings 16-9.

Walker had a hand in both first-period  goals, assisting on the Bartek goal along with Craig Cunningham and then scoring his first goal.

Strong Rangers forechecking by Bartek and Roman Horak played a key role in the Bartek goal. Walker's first tally came off a slap shot that sailed into the top right corner from the right-wing circle. Justin Soryal and defenseman Michael Del Zotto, the Rangers' 2008 first-round pick, assisted on the goal.

The Blueshirts stretched their lead to 3-0 early in the middle period on a goal by Ethan Werek, who scored off assists from Ryan Bourque and Soryal.

“He (Soryal) made the two best passes of the game," said Clark. "He hit Ethan (Werek) perfectly on stride driving to the net and sprung (Luke) Walker loose with a rink-wide pass to the right wing.”

The key to the Rangers' third goal was the back-checking work of Bourque, who dropped the puck to Soryal in time for him to feed Werek, the Rangers' second-round pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal.

Through 40 minutes of action, the Rangers had been outshot 23-20, but were getting solid goaltending from Johnson, who was perfect with 23 saves.

It wasn't until the third period that Detroit made it a competitive game.

Red Wings prospect Jan Mursak spoiled Johnson's shutout bid at 1:06 of the third, getting Detroit on the board when he scored on the rebound of a power-play shot from Travis Ehrhardt. The goal came 13 seconds after Paul Crowder went off for slashing. Rebounding from that setback, the Rangers later killed a cross-checking call against Crowder and another penalty to Luke Pither.

Johnson also came up big in the final period when he stopped Ryno on a penalty shot that was awarded to the Wings after Del Zotto tripped up Dick Axelsson.

Detroit's Brent Raedeke cut the lead to 4-2 when he scored off a Rangers turnover at 15:08 of the third period, and Brian Lashoff added some drama by scoring with 24 seconds left and Detroit's goalie pulled for an extra attacker to make it a 4-3 final.

The Rangers limited Detroit to only one goal on six power-play opportunities. Dale Weise, the Rangers prospects' captain, recorded a team-high, six shots on net.

In the Rangers' only fight of the tournament, defenseman Mike Berube and Detroit's Mitchell Callahan both drew majors at 11:55 of the first period.

After dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Monday's 4-1 win over Atlanta, the Rangers returned to a 12-forward lineup. Defensemen Daniel Maggio and Tysen Dowzak were the scratches.

In games played earlier on Wednesday, Dallas beat Columbus 4-3, and previously winless Atlanta routed heavily-favored Carolina 7-3, setting up the inevitability of two teams -- Carolina and the Rangers -- finishing 2-1 in the tournament's Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, St. Louis beat Minnesota 4-3 in a shootout, but by taking that game to overtime, the Wild advanced to the championship game against the Hurricanes at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Because Carolina defeated both the Rangers and Wings head-to-head, the 'Canes had earned their berth in Thursday's title game even before the Rangers-Detroit game began.

Several members of the prospects team will return to the MSG Training Center after the tournament to participate in the Rangers' main training camp, which opens on Saturday.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
Evgeny Grachev Paul Crowder Dale Weise
Daniel Bartek Roman Horak Craig Cunningham
Justin Soryal Ethan Werek Ryan Bourque
Chris Chappell Luke Pither Luke Walker
Left Defense Right Defense
Michael Del Zotto Mike Berube
Trevor Glass Sam Klassen
Mitch Gaulton Tomas Kundratek
Goaltenders: Chad Johnson, Scott Stajcer

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