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Rangers pay price for rocky period

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Dan Girardi and the Rangers defense had Friday night's game well under control in the first period, but a rough second period sealed the team's fate.

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On Friday night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, a second-period collapse by the Rangers turned what had been a close contest into a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

After playing a fairly even and scoreless first period on the road, the Rangers were stunned by the home team’s avalanche of goals -- four in total -- in the middle 20 minutes. So complete was Colorado’s domination that Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was  lifted from the game 12:27 into the second period with the Avalanche having just taken a 3-0 lead.

That marked the first time this season Lundqvist had been removed from a game. He allowed three goals on 16 shots, although blame for the Rangers’ woes on Friday night was shared by the entire team.

“Their forwards were better than our forwards; their defense was better than our defense; and their goaltending was better than our goaltending,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said flatly after the game.

Colorado’s David Jones beat Rangers’ defenseman Michael Del Zotto to a rebound in Lundqvist’s crease and batted home the first goal of the game just 64 seconds into the middle period. The goal came off a 2-on-2 rush with Chris Stewart firing a high, hard shot from right wing that handcuffed Lundqvist, who could not control the rebound after fending off the initial shot.

Three minutes later, a key turning point occurred in the game. Avs center Matt Duchene was sandwiched near the Rangers net by Michael Sauer and Ruslan Fedotenko, falling to his knees before taking another hit from Fedotenko which left the talented youngster sprawled on the ice.

A shaken Duchene was slow to the Colorado bench, but when he came back to game action, he returned with a vengeance. Duchene notched three points on a goal and two helpers before the second period was over, helping to turn a 1-0 Avalanche lead into a 4-0 advantage.

“It felt like everything went their way in the second period and that killed the game,” said Lundqvist. “We needed a couple more saves to keep us in the game, but we didn’t get it tonight.”

At 7:21 of the second Duchene slid a pass underneath a diving Steve Eminger and Kevin Porter deflected the puck past Lundqvist for his fifth goal. Five minutes later Duchene himself wired a long wrist shot past an unsteady Lundqvist to give the Avs a 3-0 lead and send Lundqvist to the Rangers’ bench in favor of backup Martin Biron.

“I have to try and forget this one quickly and move on,” said Lundqvist. “Technically and mentally I have to be better.”

Biron stopped the first shot he faced, but not the second. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk hammered a right wing shot past a partially screened Biron at 15:07 with Duchene earning his second assist of the game and the Avs upped their lead to four goals as Duchene clearly gained more than a measure of revenge.

Henrik Lundqvist was lifted from a game for the first time this season. With a history of bouncing back well from such disappointing starts, Lundqvist is expected to start on Saturday night in Minnesota.
“Overall it wasn’t a great game by us,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “We have to better winning battles. But it’s one game, though. We have to put this one behind us because we have another one (Saturday). You’ll have these games in the course of an 82-game season. We don’t want them to happen, and we just have to put this one behind us.”

At the other end of the ice, Avalanche netminder Craig Anderson was sharp, playing for the first time since missing ten straight games with a knee injury. He moved with lightning quick speed to deny both Derek Stepan and Alex Frolov during a Rangers power play midway through the first period to keep the game scoreless, his most significant stops of the game.

Anderson lost his shutout bid 6:03 into the third period when Stepan, off a tenacious effort in the high slot, fired a shot against the grain and through a partial screen for the Rangers’ lone goal of the night. The goal was Stepan’s fourth of the season, and first since he recorded a hat trick in his NHL debut on opening night in Buffalo.

By the time Stepan had scored, however, Daniel Winnik had taken advantage of Dan Girardi falling down in the neutral zone to score a breakaway goal against Biron 4:58 into the third, giving Colorado a 5-0 edge.

To add injury to insult, the Rangers lost the services of rugged winger Brandon Prust during the third period after a hard collision with Duchene. Prust was clearly in pain and, although he tried to return to the game, he eventually headed to the locker room to call it a night with an apparent charley horse midway through the final stanza.

“It happened from the way I hit the ice (after the collision),” explained Prust. “I should be able to go (Saturday) as long as it loosens up.”

The Rangers will look to put this contest behind them quickly since they return to action Saturday night in Minnesota against the Wild. The game will mark the first return to Minnesota of Marian Gaborik and Derek Boogaard since both former Wild players signed free-agent deals with the Rangers over the past two summers. Native Minnesotans Stepan and Sauer will also play in their home state for the first time as NHL rookies.
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