The New York Rangers are in agreement that being in first place
at the two-day Christmas break doesn’t guarantee anything come
But after three wins in four nights against Atlantic Division
foes, the Broadway Blueshirts are more than happy to be on top of
Henrik Lundqvist made 28 saves in his second win over powerful
Philadelphia this season, and rookie defenseman Stu Bickel had two
more assists for the Rangers, who beat the Flyers 4-2 on Friday
Though only 33 of 82 games have been played, the Rangers trail
just the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the
Eastern Conference – and the gap is one point.
”There is something to be said for that,” captain Ryan
Callahan said. ”We’re right there at the top, and that gives us
confidence going forward. There’s still a lot of hockey to be
played, and we haven’t seen our best yet.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella is pleased with his team’s
performance and how the club responded to this week’s challenge by
beating New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia.
As for the significance of being in first place now, Tortorella
uttered a terse, ”None.”
Bickel, in his third NHL game, helped set up goals by Derek
Stepan and Ruslan Fedotenko in the second period. He has four
assists since being recalled from the AHL, hitting the score sheet
in every game. Of the Rangers’ seven assists in the game, six were
earned by defensemen.
”It’s been awesome,” Bickel said of his brief NHL stint. ”It
has been a whirlwind since being called up, but it’s nice being
able to jump in and kind of play a role right away and contribute a
Marian Gaborik added his league-leading 21st goal early in the
third period and Callahan netted a power-play tally for the Rangers
(21-8-4), who jumped over the Flyers (21-9-4) in the Atlantic with
their fourth straight win.
Fans chanted, ”First Place!” as the final minutes ticked
The Flyers own the NHL’s best road record (13-4-2), but you
wouldn’t know it from their two trips to Madison Square Garden,
where they have scored only two goals. The Rangers beat them 2-0 on
Nov. 26 behind Lundqvist’s 29 saves.
”We played a great game,” Lundqvist said. ”Everyone was ready
for it. It was a great test. We really wanted to end this week in a
good way going into the break. We feel good about ourselves, our
game and where we are right now.”
Andrej Meszaros spoiled Lundqvist’s bid for another shutout when
he scored a power-play goal with 9:39 left, and James van Riemsdyk
made it 4-2 with 2:10 to go.
Philadelphia’s offense was hampered without center Danny Briere,
who missed the game because of an injury to his right ring finger,
sustained in Wednesday’s 4-1 win at Dallas. The Flyers, who entered
with a league-high 116 goals and 3.52 per game, are 1-2-1 since a
seven-game winning streak.
”We had all of our skill guys out,” Flyers forward Jaromir
Jagr said. ”On our chances, we just didn’t have any clear looks to
the net, and when we did, Henrik was stopping it.”
Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves in the loss.
The Flyers’ next chance to knock off the Rangers will come on
Jan. 2 in the outdoor Winter Classic in Philadelphia.
”I think it builds up for the Winter Classic,” Flyers coach
Peter Laviolette said. ”We’ve got a few games we need to take care
of before that. The Rangers are a good team, we’ve had a good year.
It probably does add a little fuel.”
The Rangers broke the scoreless deadlock with the first of their
two deflected goals in the second period.
Stepan made it 1-0 at 10:18 when he got the blade of his stick
on a right-point drive by Bickel and squeezed the puck just inside
the right post, past the surprised Bryzgalov, who thrust his head
up in disbelief.
Bickel struck again 5:12 later when another shot from the right
point caught the stick of Fedotenko, surged into the net off the
back bar and bounded back out. The red light went on and the
Rangers began to celebrate, but the goal was waved off by the
officials. At the next stoppage, a video review determined the goal
was good. It was Fedotenko’s fifth of the season, but his first
point in 10 games since he scored Dec. 3 at Tampa Bay.
Gaborik broke free and gave the Rangers a 3-0 lead 1:48 into the
third. The goal came with a painful price as he was struck near his
left shoulder by the stick of Meszaros. No one has been able to
slow him down recently as Gaborik scored for the fourth straight
game, with six goals in the spurt.
Callahan made it 4-1 with 5:56 remaining.
While there was a shortage of offense and even quality scoring
chances in the first period, there were plenty of hard hits and
even a few rarely seen hip checks. The biggest was delivered by
Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman, who wiped out Flyers forward
Matt Read by driving him into the boards in front of the
Philadelphia bench with just over 9 minutes left.
The Flyers controlled most of the period and held the Rangers
without a shot until Michael Del Zotto’s drive from the left point
was deflected by Bryzgalov’s blocker and off the crossbar with 5:35
remaining. After being outshot 6-0, the Rangers made a strong
recovery and finished the period at 8 shots apiece.
New York outhit Philadelphia 15-6 in the first, with Bickel
NOTES: Bickel had only four points – one goal and three assists
– in 27 games this season with Connecticut of the AHL. … Jagr
played his first game at Madison Square Garden since May 1, 2008,
during his final season with the Rangers before going to Russia’s
KHL. He heard boos often when he touched the puck.