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Rangers rally for inspirational victory

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers teammates congratulate defenseman Michael Sauer on his game-winning goal at 17:03 of the third period. The goal gave the Rangers their first lead after having trailed 3-0 early in the game.

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By Jim Cerny,

In a season chock full of memorable defining moments, the Rangers might just have authored the ultimate defining moment of 2010-11 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.

Incredibly on Monday, the Blueshirts wiped out an early three-goal deficit by scoring five unanswered goals -- including the tying and winning scores with less than four minutes to play in the final period -- to move closer to clinching a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs with a thrilling 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins.

The win, which came right on the heels of Sunday’s 3-2 overtime shootout victory in  Philadelphia, pushed the Rangers into a sixth-place tie with the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 91 points on the season.

The Blueshirts also lowered their magic number to clinch their fifth playoff berth in the past six seasons to three, meaning that any combination of points earned by the Rangers and/or lost by the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes totaling three would guarantee the Rangers a spot in the post-season.

Should Carolina lose to the Detroit Red Wings in regulation on Wednesday night, the Rangers could clinch on home ice Thursday night with either a win or an overtime loss against the Atlanta Thrashers.

“I’m not a big love-fest guy, but I just like how we stuck to it and we showed (guts),” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella shortly after the emotional victory. “It’s really good stuff. I couldn’t be happier for them right now.”

Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky shows his sheer joy after scoring the game-tying goal at 16:12 of the third period. Dubinsky's tying goal set the stage for Michael Sauer's game-winner just 51 seconds later.
Trailing 3-0 halfway through the game, the Rangers crawled back into the contest on a pair of Vinny Prospal goals before the second period was over. Then with 3:48 left to play in the third period, Brandon Dubinsky tied the game with his team-leading 24th goal, and 51 seconds later rookie defenseman Michael Sauer gave the Rangers their first lead of the night as joyous bedlam broke out inside The Garden.

Derek Stepan iced the victory with an empty-net goal with 53 seconds remaining.

“It gives you goose bumps and it’s a feeling you can’t describe when you hear that many people going crazy and your team is going crazy,” said Dubinsky. “I don’t want to sound cliché, but we fought so hard for so many months, and we needed these two points, so that part of it made it that more emotional.”

Dubinsky’s goal -- like so many of the Rangers’ other scoring chances on the night -- came off a relentless forecheck and cycle in the offensive zone. Artem Anisimov did the work behind the net, and Ryan Callahan worked along the boards and made the move in order to free himself and pass the puck to Dubinsky in front of the net. A patient Dubinsky pulled Bruins Vezina Trophy candidate goaltender Tim Thomas out of position before calmly finding the back of the net to tie the game 3-3.

An emotional Dubinsky screamed and raced to the boards, sliding on his knees, where he was mobbed by his teammates as they were all bathed in a deafening roar provided by The Garden Faithful.

That roar was raised quite a few decibels moments later when Sauer found himself with the puck on his stick and Thomas out of position following a world-class pass from Marian Gaborik. Sauer shoveled the puck towards the net and it just barely crossed the goal line for his third goal of the season -- and what turned out to be his second game-winner -- at 17:03 of the third.

A jubilant Vinny Prospal reacts to the second of his two second-period goals, scored with only 1:34 to go before the second intermission. Prospal's two goals set the tone for a third-period comeback win.
“That was unbelievable,” said Sauer. “I have never scored a goal that big before, that’s for sure. I was so excited, and the fans went nuts. That’s what it’s all about, and getting those two points is huge for us.”

The delirium -- and tension -- continued the next two minutes as the Bruins pressed for the equalizer against a stout Henrik Lundqvist. But with Thomas on the bench, Stepan collected the puck at center ice and whizzed a long shot into the net before being engulfed in a sea of blue sweaters by the Rangers’ bench.

“It just erupted in here, and we fed off of that,” Sauer said of the Ranger fans. “Most importantly we got the win, which was so big for us.”

Few could have foreseen this finish during a first period that had the Rangers trailing 2-0 and outshot 19-5 by the hard-charging Bruins. Despite allowing two goals, Lundqvist was the Blueshirts best player over the first 20 minute of play in keeping the score manageable.

Chris Kelly’s goal at 10:32 of the second period seemed to be the backbreaker at the time because it gave the Bruins -- one of the top defensive teams in the league -- a 3-0 lead.

However just 62 seconds after Kelly’s goal the Rangers received a huge score from Prospal, who tucked in a rebound of the rejuvenated Wojtek Wolski’s original shot.

“The first one changed everything on the ice and in the stands,” said Lundqvist. “We fed off of that. And The Garden felt like it went from end-of-season excitement to playoff excitement. That’s what you play for.”

Before the second period was complete, Prospal scored again, this time from in front off a gorgeous backhand pass from Wolski, with just 1:34 remaining on the clock. That goal cut the deficit to one and set the stage for the Rangers’ eighth win this season when trailing after two periods of play.

Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, who assisted on Michael Sauer's game-winnerf with 2:57 remaining on Monday night, reacts to the remarkable tally that gave the Rangers an improbable lead over Boston.
“They were both big because when you’re down three heading into the locker room in this league against that good of a defensive team that’s pretty much insurmountable,” Dubinsky said of Prospal’s two goals. “Obviously the second one is huge because it puts us in a position to be one shot away.”

The comeback was not complete until Brian Boyle and Callahan threw themselves in front of shots in the closing minutes to help preserve what was then a one-goal lead. The gutsy Rangers blocked 18 more shots on Monday night, with Sauer blocking a team-high five and the gritty Dan Girardi -- who missed time in the first period after being banged up on a couple of plays---blocking another three.

It was -- as Tortorella would say afterwards -- a typical Rangers victory in that it was built on resolve and resiliency, and contributions came from up and down the entire lineup.

“We’ve been this way all year long,” said Tortorella. “This team has (guts).”

Two games remain on the regular-season schedule for the Rangers, Thursday at home against the Thrashers and a Garden matinee Saturday against the Devils.

“Now we have to refocus and come back down to an even keel to prepare ourselves for a good Atlanta team,” said Dubinsky. “We have to make sure that we’re prepared and ready to go.”
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