Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was named a Vezina Trophy finalist earlier in the day on Tuesday, made 29 saves for his ninth straight win at Madison Square Garden.
|Renney's Postgame Remarks to the Press ||WMP |
|Shanahan on Scoring the Game-Winning Goal ||WMP |
|Lundqvist on Evening the Series with Buffalo ||WMP |
|Avery on the Hard Work it Took to Win ||WMP |
|Ortmeyer on the Tightness of Game 4 ||WMP |
|Buffalo's Briere on the Late No-Goal Ruling ||WMP |
|Buffalo's Miller on Losing Another 2-1 Game ||WMP |
|Sabres Coach Ruff's Postgame Remarks ||WMP |
|A Day Off With Ranger Fan Karl the Bell Hop ||WMP |
|NYC Statues Getting into the True Blue Spirit ||WMP |
Scoresheet | Stats | Faceoffs | Play-by-Play | Shift Chart
There really is something magical about the Rangers' performance at Madison Square Garden in these 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs.
If you don't believe that, you must not have seen Tuesday night's Game 4 of the Blueshirts' Eastern Conference Semifinals series.
If you don't believe that, you could not have been watching as the Rangers beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 for the second straight game, evening the series against the NHL's regular-season champion at 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Friday night at Buffalo's HSBC Arena.
Or perhaps you missed that moment when Henrik Lundqvist kicked out a potential game-tying shot by Sabres captain Daniel Briere with only 13.4 seconds left in the third period, enabling the teams to avoid another overtime.
No, Game 4 did not have the surreal drama of the double-OT win over the Sabres in Game 3 on Sunday, but the result was no less satisfying. But just when it looked like the Rangers might win without any nail-biting in the stands, Lundqvist's game-sealing save on Briere was subjected to a long video review.
"Mentally I got ready for a 2-2 game," Lundqvist said of the wait. "It is easier to switch back if it is 2-1. I felt like it was a save when I made but when I looked at the replay I wasn't so sure anymore. It was a great finish to this game. It is just how playoff hockey should be."
After several minutes of deliberations, off-ice officials deemed that Briere's shot from just outside the crease to Lundqvist's right had not fully crossed the goal line before the Rangers netminder kicked it back out with the tip of his right pad.
"It was like last game," Lundqvist said of the win. "We worked so hard. Both teams have played four good games, but the last three games Buffalo has played really well. Coming back to New York, everyone was excited. It is so much fun to play (here). It is a nice feeling to get back into the series."
Captain Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan scored the Rangers' goals on power plays on Tuesday, and Lundqvist was again outstanding in making 29 saves for the win.
"Obviously we had solid control," said Shanahan. "We took the 2-0 lead (and) then it was that shift after that goal. We have shifts to talk about. Momentum builders, last minute of the period, first minute of the period, shifts after a goal, we have to sharpen up there. We certainly took a team that was maybe on the outside looking in and gave them an opportunity to tie it up. Overall I think we deserve to win. I think we played hard. They battled hard. It is certainly not a game that we stole. It is a game that we earned."
Lundqvist was named the first star, Jagr the second and Shanahan the third, but a fourth hero on Tuesday had to be MSG itself. The Rangers' win was their ninth in a row at home, their 12th in 13 games, and their fourth straight in the playoffs. Simply playing in front of their own fans, on their own ice brought out the best in the Blueshirts, who have not lost at The Garden since March 14.
Despite the victory, the Rangers remained all business in their approach to the series.
"It is good, but we haven't accomplished anything," Jagr said after the Game 4 win. "We just tied the series 2-2. I am happy about the win, but I am not happy with the last 10 minutes of the game. We have to be smarter."
The Rangers had come back to MSG over the weekend after dropping Games 1 and 2 of the series in Buffalo. Despite those losses, which put them in an imposing 2-0 hole to start the best-of-7 series, they seemed unfazed -- even though they were facing the NHL's Presidents' Trophy winners, which had gone wire-to-wire in leading the Eastern Conference standings.
"I think we are certainly capable of playing with Buffalo at their speed, especially when we move pucks ourselves and counter attack off what they have a tendency to leave," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "Most teams are like that when they are behind. Buffalo is just a real good team and they can get goals in bunches and we are cognizant of that. We hung in there and the guys are doing a great job. They are finding ways to get the little things done. It is not always pretty, but I am not sure anyone was counting on us to be 2-2 after four games with Buffalo."
Obviously, these Blueshirts knew things would turn around for them at home -- which is exactly what happened in Games 3 and 4.
First, there was the double-OT Game 3 thriller that ended with Michal Rozsival's series-saving goal. Then, there was Tuesday night, an exhibition of total team defense that likely left the Sabres wondering what had hit them. The Rangers also dominated on special teams, scoring both of their goals on the man-advantage, while limiting the Sabres to an 0-for-4 night on the power play.
In a series where home ice means so much to both teams, serve has been held, and it is down to a best-of-3 with Game 5 on Friday in Buffalo and Game 6 set for Sunday afternoon at MSG.
Shanahan, the team's leading goal-scorer in the playoffs with five, delivered the game-winner on what actually appeared to be an insurance tally at the time -- giving the Blueshirts a commanding 2-0 lead at 8:31 of the final period when he scored with 16 seconds left in a penalty to Brian Campbell.
The goal was the end result of a bad exchange behind the Buffalo net between goaltender Ryan Miller (26 saves) and a defenseman. The puck was hesitantly carried out along the left boards, where Matt Cullen was perfectly positioned to steal it and send it to a wide-open Shanahan just outside the crease. Showing the poise of a 19-season NHL veteran, Shanahan patiently took his time before snapping a shot into the lower right corner.
Shanahan's goal would prove decisive, because only 33 seconds later, Buffalo came right back to spoil Lundqvist's shutout bid at the 9:04 mark. Lundqvist, who came within nine minutes of a shutout in Game 3, was again looking to become the first goaltender to blank the Sabres this season.
Buffalo's lone goal, scored by Ales Kotalik off Tim Connolly's pass from behind the net, brought an end to Lundqvist's 93:33 shutout streak that stretched back into the third period of the Rangers' double-overtime win in Game 3 at MSG.
"Maybe we needed a little desperation in our game," said Miller. "Unfortunately it took two goals. It is a little frustrating because you can see when guys are starting to get things going, but there are moments when we are not doing everything we can be doing. We need to play the way we did in the third period, minus the goal against."
Jagr saw Buffalo's late success as a reflection of the Rangers' letting down their guard.
"Of course we knew we could play (with Buffalo), but we cannot make mistakes," said Jagr, who expressed frustration with the team's play over the final 10 minutes. "I think we got excited when we got the two goals lead. We were too excited and they scored right away. It wasn't the first time it happened to us this season. We just never learn."
Lundqvist agreed that the final 10 minutes were not the Rangers' best.
"Obviously they are going to come hard there. They want to tie the game," said Lundqvist. "Unfortunately for us they scored that goal right away. It was really bad to give them that one. I think we got a little bit nervous there and we started to back up a little bit. It was a tough finish but we got the win. We will go to Buffalo and have to win at least one game up there, and it will be a great challenge for us."
Lundqvist would later come up with the game's biggest save, however, when he stopped Briere's potential tying goal, leaving the Sabres co-captain face-down on the ice in frustration. The play did go to a video review, which showed that most of the puck had crossed the line, even though the full diameter never did.
Up until the wild third period, the game had shaped up as a combination of Jagr's domination on offense and a team-defense clinic not just in the Rangers' zone but all over the ice, as the Blueshirts' style of puck management kept the Sabres off balance until an early second-period goal by Jagr enabled them to mount a 1-0 lead through two periods.
Jagr, who had drawn a penalty late in the first period, made sure to cash in on the power play opportunity early in the second, scoring on a brilliant deflection of a Michael Nylander shot just 45 seconds into the middle period.
"We tried to get more shots on net and get some traffic in front of it," said defenseman Dan Girardi. "We got the two power play goals and that was the deciding factor in the game."
Jagr's scoring play started with Rozsival sending a pass to Nylander at the top of the left faceoff circle. Nylander unleashed a wrister that Jagr managed to deflect from the slot area. The perfect deflection slid past Miller and into the net at 0:45 -- with 53 seconds left in a hooking penalty that Jagr had drawn against Buffalo's Toni Lydman.
The goal was the 71st career playoff goal for Jagr and his fourth of the playoffs.
Jagr wasn't the only player hurting Buffalo in those first two periods, as the Rangers' outstanding defense and special teams carried the day. After the teams were even with 10 shots apiece in the opening period, the Rangers began to take charge during a second period in which they had to kill off three Buffalo power plays, including a brief 5-on-3 advantage late in the period.
Outshooting the Sabres 14-9 in the second, the Blueshirts were hardly deferring to a team famous for its depth on offense. Indeed, the Rangers ability to dictate play was precisely what the visitors had been expected to do in this series.
"It is a team effort. We are not a team that has a so-called checking line. It is really that everyone is expected to pitch in," said Shanahan. "You have to play that way against Buffalo. It is not just about sitting back and defending. It is about using our speed and getting on the attack ourselves. Early on in the season, I don't think enough people had given credit to our team speed but we have certainly showed a lot ourselves."
Then, of course, there was Lundqvist, named a Vezina Trophy finalist earlier in the day. He was perfect with 19 saves through two periods, as he drove to his ninth straight win at MSG. When Buffalo did manage to gain some momentum in the Rangers' zone during the middle period, Lundqvist was there to shut them down.
"Henrik has been fantastic this whole season," Shanahan noted. "Certainly he is a big-game goalie. He showed that in the Olympics last year. He showed that as a rookie last year. He was showing it this year just in order for us to make to playoffs. We are in a good spot."
Renney also had glowing praise for his goalie.
"What we have now is a goaltender who is very focused, obviously," Renney said. "He is a year wiser in this league. I think he has a real terrific disposition, not only on behalf of himself and how he plays, but also on behalf of his teammates to help them play with the type of confidence that is required."
The Sabres tried to crank up the heat on the Rangers in the moments following Jagr's goal, but Lundqvist stood his ground, and by the middle of the second, the Rangers were countering with an aggressive forecheck led by the line of Petr Prucha, Cullen and Ryan Callahan. The rookie Callahan, who grew up in Western New York, had a prime scoring chance at 9:13 after he rushed the puck up-ice himself before testing Miller from the left circle.
Buffalo drew its second power-play opportunity of the game at the 11:25 mark when Rozsival went off for holding. During the power play, the Rangers got a shorthanded break that they couldn't convert at 11:56, but they continued their aggressive penalty killing and did not allow a single Sabres shot. By the time the power play had ended, the Blueshirts had lured Buffalo into a penalty of its own – a roughing call against Briere at 13:52.
That was typical of the special teams' performance.
"We have started to be a lot more desperate on the penalty kill," said Blair Betts. "We want to be as aggressive as we possibly can. It is just about hard work, sacrifice, getting your stick in the passing and shooting lanes and when the opportunity comes for them to shoot make sure your body is in front of it. For the most part we have been really good."
Nearing the end of a penalty to Marcel Hossa, called at 17:18 of the second period, the Rangers found themselves two men down for 17 seconds when Marek Malik was called for holding in his own zone at the 19:00 mark.
"We kept up what we've been doing the last few games," Betts said of the penalty killing. "We were good defensively. Our special teams have been great, we got two power play goals. We tried to manage the puck as best we can and not commit any turnovers."
Staying aggressive on the penalty kill, the three-man unit of Betts, Paul Mara and Rozsival managed to clear the zone. As time ticked off in the period, Buffalo got one more golden chance on the power play, but the Sabres' Derek Roy hit the post from the right circle at 19:35. In the double-OT thriller that was Game 3, Roy had hit the post with a shot near the end of the first overtime.
Although play was rather tentative at the beginning of the game, the Blueshirts came out strong over the first 20 minutes, firing 10 shots at Buffalo's Miller and picking up a late power play that was set to carry into the middle period.
Meanwhile, Lundqvist was clearly on his game from the start. The stage was set for another goaltending duel, as Miller came up with some of his best saves of the period in the early going. He stopped Prucha on a 21-foot wrister at 1:50 and denied defenseman Karel Rachunek on a blast from the top of the left circle at 2:12. Later in the period Miller made a similar stop on Mara at 9:30, also freezing the puck for a whistle.
Lundqvist was sharp when he had to be in the first period, making one of his best saves at the 14:05 mark of the first, as he stopped Jochen Hecht from the right circle after Hecht had broken into the Rangers zone on his own.
The Sabres did not go onto the power play until 14:34 of the first period, when Callahan went off for tripping. Buffalo's best chance during the power play came when Connolly broke into the zone and made a nifty move to deke the defenseman, but was unable to get a decent shot off at Lundqvist, who stretched his right pad to guide the puck to safety.
Just after the penalty expired, Lundqvist came up big again, stopping Game 1 hero Thomas Vanek from the slot at 16:39 He then made perhaps his best stop of the first period, denying Jason Pominville on a 2-on-1 from the slot at 17:39.
Later in the period, the Rangers gained the power-play opportunity that carried over into the second and led to their 1-0 lead. Jagr drew the hooking call against Toni Lydman in the Buffalo zone at 19:38.
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff made one surprise move, scratching talented forward Maxim Afinogenov, who had not played up to his billing in the first three games of the series.
Following the game, Ruff said he was caught off guard when the video ruling came back against Briere's potential game-tying goal.
"We initially had the TSN guys there next to the bench saying it crossed the line, so we were pretty confident that we had a goal," Ruff said. "I believe I've seen a replay where it's in. The only thing you hope with video replay is that you get it right. That's why you go to it, and we've had some lengthy videos reviews. I think from what I saw it was a goal. We've had some good reviews."
Although the call went against his team, Ruff said he was generally pleased with the Sabres' performance on Tuesday.
"I thought we had good opportunities," Ruff said. "... If you look at the chances in the third period, it's probably eight to one or eight to two by our count, so we knew we'd have to weather a little bit of a storm at the start of the game. ... We're in a hell of a series. Don't forget, they (the Rangers) were one of the best teams down the stretch, they swept Atlanta, but not for a minute, did I anticipate that this would not be a tight series."
Renney also expressed respect for his opponent.
"We realize we are playing a heck of team," Renney said of the Sabres. "We are going to do everything we can to beat them. It is that simple. It is nice to be in a position to be able to do that and continue to weed your way through a playoff series."