Wednesday, April 18th 2007
Madison Square Garden
Hollweg - Healthy
Isbister - Healthy
Ozolinsh - Injured (IR)
Rachunek - Injured (IR)
Strudwick - Ineligible for playoffs
Weekes - Injured
It was 1997 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference
Quarterfinals, and the Rangers were hosting the Florida Panthers at MSG.
The game had gone to overtime and Esa Tikkanen unloaded a big slapshot that to
many (including the referee) appeared to go off the crossbar. Tikkanen
began to celebrate as play continued, looking around for anyone to acknowledge
what he felt certain was goal. It was a couple more minutes before play
finally stopped and they were able to go to the video. As it turned out
Tikkanen's shot went in and out of the net so quickly that video barely captured
it over the line.
There perhaps wasn't
quite so much at stake when Matt Cullen took his slapshot tonight, nor was
Cullen so sure that he scored. In fact he admitted after the game that he
actually asked Johan Hedberg whether it went in, and was told that it had
deflected off the crossbar. So play continued for a few more seconds
before a stoppage sent the referees to the video. As it turned out,
Hedberg was indeed correct, but what he didn't know was that after hitting the
crossbar the puck went over the line before bouncing out in what has to be one
of the more unusual ricochets seen in hockey.
The goal put the Rangers ahead for the final time
in the series, reinforced by a Jaromir Jagr empty netter to give the Rangers the
game 4-2 and the 4-0 series sweep over the Thrashers.
A jovial Jagr joked freely with Al Trautwig after
the game, but cautioned that the true character of the team is yet to be tested.
Brendan Shanahan (who scored the goal to tie the game at two in the second),
played down the achievement to Bill Clement of Versus, preferring to remain
focused on the task at hand.
Yes there was definitely a sense of celebration
with the Rangers, but the team leaders now have their eyes on a bigger prize, a
second round match-up against an opponent which is yet to be determined, and
then the chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
As for the game, the Thrashers were certainly not
the pushovers they were in game three. Johan Hedberg's return to the net
seemed to steady the visitors, especially when he stopped several Ranger shots
early in the period. Keith Tkachuk then capitalized on a quick pass from
behind the net, after Ilya Kovalchuk fought off Thomas Pock and set up his team
mate in the slot.
The Rangers immediately bounced back however,
drawing a power play and taking just 12 seconds to cash in on Michal Rozsival's
second of the playoffs. Perhaps the worst series of play since game one
ultimately lead to Greg de Vries re-establishing the Thrashers' lead, taking a
shot off the rebound and beating Lundqvist who was still trying to recover from
a series of broken play.
From there it was all Ranger, with Shanahan
beating Hedberg off the rush on a goal that trickled under his arm, and then
Cullen and Jagr scoring in the third.
The Rangers will now get at least a week off as
they wait to see who they'll play in the Semifinals.
The Rangers move onto the semifinals for the first time since 1997 when they
eliminated the Panthers 4-1. It was the first series sweep since the Cup
year when they beat the Islanders 4-0 in the first round.
New York became the first team to qualify for the
second round, and the only team that is yet to lose in the playoffs.
Potential opponents include the more likely pair of Sabres (1) and Senators (4),
with less likely scenarios matching them up against the Penguins (4) and
Marek Malik picked up his first penalty minutes
of the post season, picking up two minors including a late hooking call.
Matt Cullen scored his first post season goal, which proved to be the winner,
and Jaromir Jagr registered his 69th playoff goal, and the first empty netter by
the Rangers this post-season (first since they beat the Devils 3-0 to secure the
Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1997).
A look down the NHL stats page prior to the game
saw Rangers leading in all but one category...Henrik Lundqvist was second to
Roberto Luongo in Save %. With the sweep, the Rangers will likely drop
back in those categories due to fewer games played.
For the first game in the post season, Fedor
Tyutin failed to register an assist. Thomas Pock managed to register his
third though, and he now has just one fewer than his regular season total of 4.
The Thrashers held their first leads of the
series, for 1:19 in the first and 5:52 in the second. Both times the
Rangers responded soon after to tie the game before ultimately going ahead.
New York finishes the series having outscored
their opponents 17-6.
The Atlanta Thrashers scored the first goal and established a lead for the first
time in the series. The Rangers almost immediately drew a power play
allowing Michal Rozsival to score his second of the playoffs and quickly brought
the MSG crowd back into the game.
WHO STOOD OUT:
It was another case of the Rangers dominating much of the game. The top
line was once again dominant, and Marcel Hossa appears to be quickly rounding
back into form. Sean Avery was once again a pest, and Brendan Shanahan
could easily have had three goals if not some poor finishing (he did have one).
Marek Malik and Dan Girardi stood out on the blueline, with creditable efforts
by all six defensemen.
Henrik Lundqvist was not as unbeatable as earlier
in the series, but made several big time saves in the game
The Rangers fourth line didn't see a lot of time, and weren't much of an impact
either way in the game...Petr Prucha has been relatively quiet too.