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Rangers' Rally Falls Short in Traverse City

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

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The New York Rangers prospects team didn't come away with a victory in its opener at the 2009 Traverse City (Mich.) Prospects Tournament on Sunday, but they did emerge with a sense of the magnitude of the talent that the organization has drafted over the past two years.

Carolina's prospects beat the Rangers 5-3 on Elgin Reid's game-winning goal with just 2:25 remaining in the third period. Brandon Sutter, the son of Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter, sealed the win with an empty-net tally with 34 seconds remaining, after the Rangers pulled goaltender Scott Stajcer for an extra attacker.

Michael Del Zotto was a major force in Sunday's Traverse City opener, setting the tone for a big third-period rally.
Stajcer, the Rangers' second of two 2009 fifth-round draft picks, was solid in goal with 35 saves against a very deep Carolina team that is considered one of the favorite's at this year's tournament. The Hurricanes outshot the Rangers 40-35, but they did not secure a win until the game was nearly over.

“Scott was excellent in this game, especially in the first half of the game," said Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark. "He made a number of outstanding saves and was able to keep the game close. He kept us in it, and gave us a chance to win.”

Indeed, Stajcer kept his team in it long enough for the Blueshirts to come back from a 3-1 deficit and tie the score with two goals in a 21-second span of the third period. Two other 2009 draftees, fifth-rounder Roman Horak and third-rounder Ryan Bourque, got those goals.

Also starring for the Rangers on Sunday was 2008 first-rounder Michael Del Zotto. The defenseman set the pace for the third-period comeback and logged more minutes than any other Blueshirts player. Del Zotto is participating in his second Traverse City tournament after playing on last year's sixth-place Rangers team.

“He (Del Zotto) displayed high-end ability with his puck movement, vision of the ice and passing, particularly on the power play," said Clark. "He was very noticeable throughout the contest.”

Del Zotto controlled the play and led the rush. His third-period spark even helped the Rangers eventually take a short-lived lead in shots on goal midway through the third period.

With the game tied 3-3 and momentum on the Rangers' side, the Hurricanes drained all the drama on Reid's seeing-eye screened shot from point at 17:35 of the third period. The goal, assisted by Jamie McBain, went in high over Stajcer's shoulder.

Up until that point, it had been almost all Rangers in the third period.
Trailing 3-1, they refused to give up and somehow engineered their remarkable two goals in six seconds. Both goals came off the sticks of 18-year-olds who have already played preseason games this month in the WHL (Horak) and QMJHL (Bourque).

Trailing 2-1, the Rangers came out firing in the third period, which featured an early breakout pass from Mitch Gaulton that sprung Evgeny Grachev on a breakaway. Grachev was stopped on his deke attempt, but Carolina's McBain was called for hooking on the play at 1:35 of the third.

Grachev, the 2008-09 OHL Rookie of the Year, certainly impressed Clark and his team of Rangers scouts.

“He dominated the entire game and was dangerous whenever he touched the puck," Clark said of Grachev. "In the second half, especially, he took his game to another level with his size and strength. He used his natural attributes to control the puck and the flow of the game.”

Carolina managed to kill the McBain penalty, and the momentum temporarily turned back to the Hurricanes when Zach Boychuk scored off the rush. The goal, assisted by Reid, came at 4:08 of the third.

Refusing to fall apart, the Rangers then shocked the 'Canes with their two goals to tie the score. Bourque scored off an assist from Ethan Werek at the 4:49 mark, and Horak made it 3-3 with an unassisted goal at 5:10.
That the instant offense came from Horak and Bourque was no surprise, since both players have been outstanding in their first few major-junior preseason games.

"Bourque gave us a big offensive spark in the third period, "Clark said. "He played hard throughout and created a number of scoring chances.  His goal was the result of hard work, driving hard to the net.”

Without Stajcer, however, the Rangers' third period surge might have been moot. Stajcer had ended the second period making big stops on first-round pick Philippe Paradis and Samuel Morneau. He had 26 of his 35 saves through two periods, as Carolina was outshooting the Blueshirts 28-20 after 40 minutes.

With just over seven minutes left in the third, and the Rangers successfully killing off a high-sticking penalty to Del Zotto, the Blueshirts' all-out push had swung the shots-on-goal totals in their favor at 34-31.

Carolina, which never trailed in the game, had taken a 2-1 lead at 15:16 of the second, scoring off a Rangers turnover. Boychuk intercepted a pass in the Blueshirts zone and fired a shot at Stajcer. Stajcer made the initial stop, but had no chance on the rebound goal by Matt Kennedy.

The Rangers nearly came right back to tie it when captain Dale Weise set up Luke Pither, whose shot hit the post.
With time running out in the second, the Rangers nearly tied it again when Bourque came in off a cycling play and forced Carolina's Mike Murphy to make a huge save to preserve the Hurricanes' lead.

The Rangers got their first goal of the game at 3:46of the middle period, when Daniel Bartek scored unassisted. Weise started the play that led to the goal.

Bartek's goal came moments after the Blueshirts had killed off an early high-sticking penalty to Bourque. Stajcer was a major factor in helping to kill the Bourque penalty and again as the Rangers had to kill off another penalty when Justin Soryal went off for roughing at 6:03.

Pither nearly gave the Rangers a lead just past the game's midway point, but his clear breakaway was denied by stopped by Murphy. At 11:12 of the second, Del Zotto was called for slashing, but the Rangers were strong on the penalty kill and did not allow any good scoring chances.

Carolina had grabbed an early lead in the first period, on the strength of a Drayson Bowman goal off the rush. Bowman converted a nice feed from Chris Terry with only 1:41 remaining in the opening 20 minutes.

Bowman's goal, which was also assisted by Nick Dodge, was the only shot that beat Stajcer, who finished the period with 12 saves. Carolina had outshot the Rangers 13-8 in a very up-tempo 20 minutes for both teams.

With seven minutes remaining in the first period, the Rangers killed off a bench minor for having too many men on the ice. Carolina hit a post and a crossbar during its power play.

The Rangers finished 0-for-1 on the power play, while frustrating Carolina by shutting down all five Hurricanes man-advantages.

In other Traverse City games on Sunday, Minnesota beat Columbus 2-1, St. Louis beat Dallas 9-6, and Detroit downed Atlanta 6-4.

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

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