There was something for everyone at the Garden last night as the Rangers broke their long losing streak with a 4-1 win over the decimated Caps -- four Ranger goals, two by Petr Prucha, and even one by Darius Kasparaitis; good defense, goaltending, and penalty killing by the Rangers; a penalty shot; and lots of hitting, fighting, cheap shots, and statements, especially by Brendan Shanahan and Colton Orr on the positive side for the Rangers and Donald Brashear gooning it up for the Caps.
The defining moment of the game and perhaps the defining moment of the season was Shanahan challenging Brashear to a fight in the third period. With the Rangers up 3-0, Shanahan had had enough both with Brashear, who was running Rangers left and right, and with the Rangers' seven-game losing streak, which included two blown third period leads in Florida.
"Our team needed a little extra," Shanahan said. "The opportunity presented itself with some of the things he did to Jaromir [Jagr] throughout the game. I went to the face-off and I asked him to fight me, and he did. There's no point fighting a guy who doesn't fight. I don't think he wanted to fight me -- I don't think he thought I was serious. In the beginning he gave me a chance to back out of it, and I told him no. I wanted to make that clear when I came back to the bench. I said to the guys, 'He didn't pick that with me.' I said to Colton, 'I got no problem with Donald Brashear -- I'm the one who instigated that one.'"
"He took it upon himself," coach Tom Renney said. "When your leaders do things like that, it clearly demonstrates that they're willing to pay any kind of price to win. It suggests how badly he wanted to get us out of what we've just been through seven times. And it lends itself nicely to make sure that we don't get ourselves into that kind of streak again. But it's incumbent upon his teammates and all of us to make sure it doesn't happen [again]."
"There's always those moments in a season where you look for such a catalyst to propel your season forward," said Aaron Ward, who absorbed a sucker punch from Brashear on his way to the penalty box that got Brashear an extra major, a game misconduct, and no doubt a suspension. "You have to answer the bell, whether it's guys fighting or guys sticking up for each other. We had to find something to rally around. It always takes an odd moment in the season when you hope that your team looks at each other to the left and the right and you feel a sense of unity. I'm not saying it wasn't there before, but games like this are sometimes the spurring factor that ignites us. Hopefully this is something you can build on."
"I saw it evolving at the face-off dot," Ward went on. "I was kind of -- no! And then it happened. I'm a spectator now. He's a fiery Irish Catholic and that's in his nature. He sticks up for his teammates -- if he feels someone's been wronged, he'll say something." About his own encounter with Brashear, Ward said, "I just asked him a question. It's self-evident. It's an obvious question -- what he was doing after the play. He dusted his hands off. It was grammatically correct -- I was polite about it."
"It was great," said Jagr of Shanahan's statement. "Not only Shanny, but Orrsy and the other guys. But Shanny, he faced probably the toughest guy in the league. That's just great. It's tough to describe in words, it's just great to see it." Jagr didn't shy away from Brashear himself -- after a scuffle off a draw, Brashear skated into Jagr and Jagr took him down (Jagr was improperly penalized for that -- Brashear was the one who committed the interference).
"I don't know what Glen's intention was in lining Brashear up against Jags all night long," Renney said. "Jaromir is a big strong guy himself, not that I expect him to drop the leather and go. But he can handle himself in tough situations. You want it to meld your team together in what you have to do collectively in order to win. We need to play a spirited game, we need to be a team that's physically engaged, we need to perpetuate that shift to shift through three periods. I'm not talking about fighting, I'm talking about physically engaging yourself in the hockey game."
But Renney talked about fighting too: "When it comes down to that, everybody's got that in their line-up," he said. "We'll do what we have to do to insure the safety of our star people." This kind of statement is radical departure from what Renney has said over the past season and a half, insisting that this aspect of the game was obsolete and that the refs would protect his star players. The Rangers have finally realized that that is not the case and will not take it anymore. Time will tell if they will carry this over through the rest of the season.
The Rangers sent more of a message to the rest of the league than just Shanahan taking on Brashear. They also showed, for the first time, a willingness to do unto others' stars what others were doing unto their stars -- Kasparaitis blasted Alex Ovechkin in the second minute, the hit leading directly to the Rangers' first goal, Prucha's first of the game, both of them backhand rebound shots; Michal Rozsival ran into Ovechkin too in the first period, but he got the worst of it and had to absorb a number of retaliatory hits; and Orr ran Ovechkin late in the game, catching him in the jaw with a crosscheck that loosened some teeth.
Orr had an eventful game. It's hard to fathom that he had less than four minutes of ice time, and that he was credited with just one hit. He had two fights, challenged Brashear in the first period only to see Brashear run to the bench in an attempt to draw a penalty, challenged Brashear again when he poked Henrik Lundqvist, and even got off a shot and blocked one. Orr went over to Shanahan in the locker room as reporters waited to talk to Shanahan and hugged him.
"There have been times this year when we tried to respond that way but there weren't any takers," Shanahan said. "There are very few guys in the league who do that anymore. But I don't want the game to get lost in that. This game was about us coming out in the first period the way we did and then limiting some pretty explosive offensive players to perimeter chances. The things that happened in the third period are secondary. Definitely in the second intermission it crossed my mind what happened the last two third periods we went out with the lead. We didn't want that to happen again, so we wanted to make the third period a little different than the last two."
"It was a tough situation for us here," Jagr said of the seven game losing streak the Rangers carried into the game. "I've played for 15, 16 years -- Shanny same thing, maybe longer. We talked about it -- we never faced that kind of situation. I was kind of scared -- I wanted to have the losing streak over. If you care a lot, it's not easy. It wasn't easy for me. I care a lot about this team and the fans. You know what, I thought the fans helped us a lot. I thought they were gonna respond differently, and they did, they were on our side from the first shift, and it helped us a lot."
"We have to keep this in perspective," Renney said. "We've just lost seven in a row, we got one back now, but we have a long hill to climb here. What we've got to do is understand the emotion we did tap into tonight and how we did stand shoulder to shoulder. Our leaders exhibited certain things, each of them individually. We've got one foot back on the rung and have to start climbing the ladder again."
While it's true that the Caps came in fatigued, playing their fourth game in five nights, and decimated by illness and injury, the Rangers were in no position to be sympathetic, having gone through the same themselves over the past few weeks. They took advantage on a number of fronts -- Prucha finally got some luck and scored two huge goals, the first and the last; Michael Nylander had a heck of game, with one goal, one assist, and one improperly disallowed goal (though it didn't mean much, since Prucha followed up moments later with a goal on the same power play); Karel Rachunek had a good game, with four hits, a rare +2, a pair of assists, and a shorthanded breakaway on which he hit the goal post twice and was awarded a penalty shot (stopped by Kolzig); Thomas Pock had a huge game that was lost in all the brouhaha, batting down a breakaway pass to Ovechkin in the first period, making several big plays during a Washington five on three that could have gotten the Caps back into the game, and making the outlet pass that ultimately led to Kasparaitis's goal ("You can only hold Darius Kasparaitis for so long before he lets loose," quipped Shanahan).
And Lundqvist turned in a third straight strong performance, having now given up only four goals in his last three games, having only one bad period in the past four games. He wasn't really challenged all that much in this game, but he stopped Ovechkin on a number of good shots, even though all but one was from the perimeter. He even got a piece of the goal that broke his shutout late in the third period. A huge scare was thrown into this game when Ovechkin was tripped by Ward into Lundqvist, smashing the goalie's right ankle into goal post, with Fedor Tyutin's skate catching Henrik in the mask on the same play. But Lundqvist, who said the ankle was tender after the game, resumed play and showed no ill effects.
Game reports today in the News, Journal News, Newsday, Times, Post, AP, SNY, NYR.com, and NY Sports Day. More in the reporters' blogs -- Blueshirts Blog, Blue Notes, and Rangers Report. Washington point of view in their Post. In the Sunday columns, Shanahan talks to Larry Brooks about marginal penalty calls in the Post, Steve Zipay has some midterm awards in Newsday, and Sherry Ross mocks the idea of enlarged nets in the News. Hartford lost in their latest attempt to get over .500, while Charlotte won. Prospect update and WJC report at NYR.com, and Jess Rubenstein's Prospect Park:
We start with the WJC, where Tomas Zaborsky’s Slovakian team faced off against Team USA in a must win for the Amerks. The US pulled out a 6-1 win to keep their hopes of a medal alive for another day. Zaborsky was not only scoreless in the game but finished the tournament without any points. Team USA needs a win on Sunday against Sweden or else they will be knocked out of medal contention. Moving on to college action, Greg Beller was scoreless as Yale blew a 4-0 third period lead and had to settle for a 4-4 tie against Nebraska-Omaha. In the consolation game at the Great Lakes Invitational, Dylan Reese’s Harvard Crimson defeated Jordan Foote’s Michigan Tech Huskies, 3-2. Neither prospect scored. Kenny Roche did not score but his BU Terriers shut out Dartmouth, 3-0. Darin Olver had an assist but it was not enough as his NMU Wildcats lost to Notre Dame, 4-3.
Turning to the QMJHL, Ryan Hillier set up the tying goal in the third period as Halifax came from behind to defeat St. Johns 4-3. In the OHL, Bobby Sanguinetti's first of two goals (16th and 17th of the season) turned out to be the game winner as Owen Sound defeated Brampton, 7-4. We also found out that Dalyn Flatt has not been scratched -- he is sitting out a two game suspension for a checking from behind incident prior to the holiday break. We finish out west in the WHL, where three road games in three nights turned out to be too much for Michael Sauer and Medicine Hat as they lost to Swift Current, 5-2. Sauer had a rough night, ending up -3. Brodie Dupont and his Calgary Hitmen also had a rough evening, losing to Brandon, 4-2. Eric Hunter and Prince George also had it rough, losing 6-1 on the road to Kamloops.
Stars of the Night: First Star -- Bobby Sanguinetti (Owen Sound OHL) -- Quietly, the 2006 first rounder is having a decent season. His two goals tonight makes him the fifth leading scorer among the prospects this season. Maybe there has been too much hype so he is not getting enough credit for a pretty good season. Second Star -- Ryan Hillier (Halifax QMJHL) -- Setting up a tying goal in a win is always going to get noticed -- nice job, Ryan. Third Star -- Darin Olver (Northern Michigan CCHA) -- An assist in a losing effort as Olver tries to help NMU get on a roll.
Happy new year, everyone! Thanks for your support over the past year.