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Wolski makes sure Rangers are rewarded

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers Brandon Prust and Mats Zuccarello are the first to congratulate Wojtek Wolski after Wolski got the lone shootout goal in Tuesday's come-from-behind victory over the Hurricanes at Raleigh, N.C.

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By Jim Cerny,

On Tuesday night at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., Wojtek Wolski twice came to his team’s rescue when the Rangers needed him most. As a result, the Blueshirts secured a hugely important 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in a game ended by Wolski’s decisive goal in the shootout.

The win increased the Rangers’ lead for seventh place in the Eastern Conference to three points over the Hurricanes, who currently reside in eighth place.

“The guys should feel good because this was a gutsy effort,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “And (Wolski) was one of our best forwards tonight and comes through with a big goal for us.”

Less than two minutes away from a devastating defeat which would have been built on a blown third-period lead, the Rangers tied the game -- and forced overtime -- on Wolski’s 11th goal of the season and second in as many games.

After accepting a long pass from Ryan McDonagh on left wing, Wolski powered to the net, maneuvering around one defenseman before flipping a centering pass into the low slot for the onrushing Michael Sauer. Wolski’s pass never reached Sauer, instead deflecting off Carolina defenseman Jay Harrison’s stick and over the goal line for the equalizer with 1:50 remaining in regulation.

“That’s the identity of our team, really, we work hard and we’re never going to quit,” said Wolski, who logged more than 20 minutes of ice-time for the second game in a row. “And that’s something our team is going to need going into the playoffs. We weren’t rewarded before the last few games even though we were playing well and getting the opportunities, so it’s great tonight to get the two points and get the win.”

Rangers alternate captain Ryan Callahan carries the puck into the Carolina zone on Tuesday night. Callahan scored a go-ahead goal for the Rangers late in the second period. The Blueshirts are now 21-0-0 when they take a lead into the third period.
While Wolski rightfully received credit for the tying goal, Sauer earned high marks for driving to the net with the game on the line, playing a big part in helping the Rangers get this game to overtime despite not receiving a point on the play.

“I saw Wooly had the puck and kind of pulled up after making a great move so I knew I had to get to the net and get some traffic there, and then I saw the puck squirt out and I started swinging at it until it went over the goal line,” said Sauer, who was a force on the blueline, playing nearly 26 minutes on Tuesday. “It’s a big two points because we are both battling for playoff spots. We just had to stick with it, which is what we did.”

In the shootout, Henrik Lundqvist did his part denying all three Hurricanes’ shooters -- Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen, and Sergei Samsanov -- although he was matched save-for-save through two rounds by Cam Ward, who stopped both Erik Christensen and Mats Zuccarello, two of the league’s top shootout artists.

With the game once again hanging in the balance, Wolski collected the puck at center ice, drifted to his right, and then whipped a shot past Ward’s glove high into the net for the deciding goal.

“I was just thinking that I had to make sure I got us one,” said Wolski. “(Christensen and Zuccarello) are so good in the shootout, so when they missed I just thought that I had to bear down and get a goal. I like being in those key situations. It gives me that extra adrenaline and that extra push.”

The Rangers entered the third period holding a 2-1 lead, but that quickly evaporated when Jokinen scored twice within the first 6:10 of the final stanza to give Carolina its first lead of the night. With Ward making one scintillating save after another -- he finished with 43 saves through regulation and overtime -- the Rangers nearly seemed destined for defeat.

But despite losing Marc Staal to a knee injury in the third -- and with prime scoring chances by Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle, among others, being turned aside -- the Rangers never relented on their pressure against Ward. And with Lundqvist, who finished with 30 saves, coming up big in goal for the visitors, the Rangers finally pulled even on Wolski’s goal.

“I tried to play as well as possible and give the team a chance to win,” said Lundqvist. “As long as it’s a one-goal game, you never know. These are two huge points for us, and it feels so good to get rewarded. We’ve been working really hard these last couple of weeks and not getting the points, but finally we got rewarded tonight.”

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stops a shot by Carolina's Erik Cole on Tuesday night at the RBC Center. Lundqvist finished the game with 30 saves over the 65 minutes of regulation and overtime and was a perfect 3-for-3 vs. Carolina in the shootout.
The Rangers took advantage of back-to-back Carolina penalties late in the second period to score a tie-breaking power play goal shortly before intermission to secure a hugely important 2-1 lead heading into the final 20 minutes of play.

Carolina’s Erik Cole sent an errant pass over the glass for a delay of the game penalty at 17:46, and then at 19:14 -- with the Rangers still on the power play -- Joni Pitkanen was whistled for hooking Staal just as he was blasted by his big brother Eric, the ‘Canes captain, to send the Rangers on a two-man advantage.

With 13.8 seconds remaining in the period, Ryan Callahan redirected a Zuccarello shot from the right point between Ward’s pads to give the Rangers the lead. Although the goal was not technically scored on the two-man advantage -- Cole was just coming out of the penalty box when Callahan scored -- the Rangers still had a 5-on-3 numbers advantage deep in Carolina’s zone as the Rangers’ alternate captain netted his 16th goal.

Callahan’s score was the only goal of the second period. The Rangers had grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the opening period when Brandon Prust converted Sean Avery’s cross-crease pass for his career-high ninth goal of the season just 2:08 into the game. But Harrison took advantage of a Rangers turnover at the blueline and scored his second goal off a breakaway with 3:25 to play in the first period to tie the game at 1-1.

Both Lundqvist and Ward excelled in the first two periods. Lundqvist stopped 18 of 19 shots, making a string of sensational saves -- perhaps none bigger at the time than his pad stop on Eric Staal’s shorthanded breakaway 75 seconds before Callahan’s goal.

Ward denied 27 of 29 Rangers’ shots through 40 minutes of play and, like Lundqvist, made some outstanding saves along the way. He was fortunate, too, as Vinny Prospal’s right-wing shot caught iron six minutes into the game, a shot, that if it found the net instead of the post, would have given the Rangers a two-goal lead.

“It’s a big relief to get the win, but it’s also a great feeling to get rewarded,” said Lundqvist. “Mentally it’s really tough when you are playing hard and playing well, but not getting the points. It’s pretty tough to stick with it, but you have to. In the end it’s all about winning and getting the result. And that’s what we did tonight.”

After a well-earned day off on Wednesday, the Rangers will return to practice on Thursday and then head back into action on Friday night with a road contest against the Capitals at Washington.
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