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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
In an absolutely electric atmosphere at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, the Rangers exploded for five first-period goals en route to a passionately-played 6-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
With that victory, the Rangers have now won three in a row and five of their past six and tightened their hold on seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Their 80 points are four better than both Buffalo and Carolina, the latter of which rallied for a 3-2 overtime win over the Islanders on Friday.
The Rangers also moved to within five points of sixth-place Montreal with 10 games left to play in the regular season.
The victory might have come with a cost, however, for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist
, who earned his 30th victory of the season Friday and became the first goalie in NHL history to win 30 or more games in each of his first six seasons, was barreled into by Montreal’s Benoit Pouliot with three minutes left in the game.
Such was the force of the collision that Lundqvist flew backwards into his net, and his head snapped sharply backwards. Although he finished the game, Lundqvist remained down on the ice for several minutes and was tended to by team trainer Jim Ramsay.
“The tough part here is that I really didn’t see him coming,” said Lundqvist, who did not meet with members of the media until a full hour after the game was over. “My head was leaning forward and I took a pretty hard hit there. But we checked everything, X-rays were good, it’s just that my neck is very stiff and sore. We’ll see how it is when I wake up tomorrow, but I’m sure it will be sore for several days.”
|Blueshirts alternate captain Marc Staal reacts to a goal by Brian Boyle at 18:16 of the first period. Staal assisted on the goal, which closed out a run of three goals in 1:07 and put the Rangers ahead 5-1. |
Lundqvist said that he never blacked out from the hit, and he did not hit his head when he fell backwards. He admitted that it was difficult for him to play the final three minutes because his neck kept getting stiffer, and it was becoming very hard for him to turn his head.
As to whether or not he will be able to play Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, Lundqvist -- who has started 16 consecutive games -- said, “My goal is to be ready on Sunday.”
On Friday night, Lundqvist was well supported as the Rangers scored five goals in a single period for the first time this season, eclipsing the four they had twice scored earlier this year.
It was the first time that the Blueshirts had tallied five times in a first period since a six-goal outburst against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 15, 1999. And it was the first time that they had tallied at least five times in any one period since another six-goal explosion against the Boston Bruins on March 17, 2007.
“Lately I think that has been the key for us, having great starts and then playing good hockey from there,” said Vinny Prospal, who extended his point-scoring streak to eight consecutive games by scoring a goal and adding an assist on Friday. “Except for the Anaheim game, our starts the last five, six games have been really, really good. And tonight we just started rolling there in the first period.”
The Rangers’ scintillating start matched the playoff-like atmosphere inside a charged-up Madison Square Garden. The Garden Faithful greeted the Blueshirts with a standing ovation when they hit the ice and segued into a fever pitch during the national anthems of both the United States and Canada.
“It was awesome, you could just feel the electricity going through the building,” said defenseman Michael Sauer
. “It was exciting. We knew they were pulling for us and were behind us, and you just feed off that.”Brandon Prust
made sure to give his team a big lift when he dropped the gloves with Montreal’s Travis Moen, officially just one second into the game. With The Garden rocking even louder, Prust and Moen engaged in a prolonged fight before exiting the ice for five minutes each.
“I was just trying to jumpstart the team,” said Prust. “The building was alive and was just such a great atmosphere. It was a spur of the moment fight, and we were both willing.”
|Rangers forward Artem Anisimov beats Montreal starting netminder Carey Price for the game's first goal on a breakaway at 5:28 of the first period. |
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opened the scoring at 5:28 -- blocking Yannick Weber’s right-point shot and then scoring on a clean breakaway against Montreal goalie Carey Price. But the Canadiens pulled even at 7:11 on P.K. Subban’s blast through traffic.
The Rangers regained the lead at 10:25 of the first when Dan Girardi
blasted a right-wing shot high over Price’s glove, nine seconds after Montreal had just killed off a Rangers’ power play. The Rangers would blow the game open by scoring three goals in a span of 67 seconds later in the period.Ryan Callahan
was credited with his team-leading 22nd goal at 17:09 to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead, but only after a video review overruled the original on-ice call that Callahan’s deflection had not crossed the goal line, after a great move and pass by Brandon Dubinsky
started the play.
“That’s a big goal because it gives us a two-goal lead, and we had no idea we’d score two more there,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “That was a power move by Dubi, a great move by Dubi coming out of the corner.”
With the crowd still cheering Callahan’s goal, Marian Gaborik
whisked his 21st goal past Price from the slot just 32 seconds later to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead. Erik Christensen, who also earned the primary assist on Girardi’s goal, set up Gaborik’s score with a deft feed from behind the net.
The Rangers then took advantage of the reeling Canadiens again when Brian Boyle
scored his 21st of the season, off a 3-on-1 rush up ice, at 18:16. At that point Jacques Martin, Montreal’s head coach, removed the beleaguered Price from the game. Price surrendered five goals on 12 shots.
“To come out of the first period being up 5-1, that’s great,” said Prospal, who scored a power play goal with 2:42 to play in the third with Pouliot in the penalty box after running Lundqvist. “The fans really got into it and created a great atmosphere. It’s nice to see an atmosphere like this with the building so alive.”
Montreal scored single goals in the second (James Wisniewski) and third (Brian Gionta) to close the gap to 5-3, but the Rangers stiffened and regained control of the game following Gionta’s score.
“Even when they scored we still had our chances,” said Tortorella. “I thought (Alex) Auld made some great saves (after replacing Price). After their third goal I thought our forechecking picked up again and took over the game.”
Off to Pittsburgh now with three straight wins, but with their All Star goaltender sore and questionable to play, the Rangers will look to continue their playoff drive Sunday against the Penguins.
“We’re gaining momentum and playing with great energy,” said Tortorella. “But we are also still fighting for our (playoff) lives.”