Chris Drury

Great, Now Do It Again

by Mark Owens

Chris Drury‘s slap shot 23 seconds into the second period made the score 3-0 and the Rangers never looked back. Brendan Shanahan sealed the win on a beautiful give-and-go with Sean Avery, snapping the puck past a beleaguered Antero Niittimyaaki, making it 4-0 and chasing the Finn from the net. In the goalie’s defense, only Drury’s goal was one he should have easily stopped, but coach-of-the-year candidate John Stevens had no choice but to make a goalie change to wake up his team.

The Rangers greatly outplayed the Flyers in all three zones in earning Stephen Valiquette’s first career shutout. The badly slumping Drury combined with Nigel Dawes on the game’s all-important first goal. Drury slid a beautiful head-man pass to Dawes, who smartly faked a slap shot to get Niittimyaaki to the ice only to pull the puck wide and wristing a shot home from a bad angle – a true goal scorer’s goal.

A play like that really makes you wonder why Dawes has only played in 32 of the team’s 52 games, especially on a team with the league’s worst offense. The line of Drury, Dawes and Petr Prucha won this game for the Rangers.

With less than three minutes left in the first period, all five Rangers on the ice combined to smother the Flyers in the neutral zone to squeak the puck loose to Dan Girardi, who released a slap shot from the right circle that was kicked out by Niittymaaki but slammed home by a charging Petr Prucha. The tiny Czech continues to be the Ranger who most consistently drives to the net, but strangely sees little power play time to show for his efforts.

After playing a strong 60-minute game, the Rangers now have to prove that they can sustain that effort in back-to-back games. Besides last week’s back-to-back home wins against Atlanta, the Rangers haven’t played two consecutive strong games since the last week of December. It is now crunch time, with only 29 games left, all but three of them against Eastern Conference opponents. It is up to the players to convince management that the team has what it takes to win these tough games and go on a winning streak similar to last year’s memorable finish.

With last night’s win and the Islanders’ loss to the Kings (can the Islanders please collapse now) the Rangers are now in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the Devils and Bruins.

For those Ranger fans who screamed when the Flyers obtained rugged defenseman James Vandermeer, he was minus three last night and was unable to contain Prucha from jamming home a rebound on the game’s second goal. Vandermeer also delivered a dirty, unnecessary cross check to Dawes’ chin late in the first period, which resulted in Drury’s back-breaking power play goal early in the second.

It would be nice if the Rangers had some more toughness, though. With the possible exception of Sami Kapanen, the Flyers have no ‘soft’ players on their team, and he plays on the fourth line with veteran Jim Dowd and goon Riley Cote.

Notes

Valiquette only had to make 20 saves to earn his shutout, but he did stop some tough shuts early in the game, enabling the Rangers to grab the lead.

Marek Malik returned to the lineup and was mostly steady throughout, although one bad giveaway at the blue line almost led to a Flyers’ breakaway. Malik had the least amount of ice time among the Rangers’ defensemen.

Three Stars of the Game

1. Chris Drury – 1 goal and 1 assist
2. Brendan Shanahan – 1 goal (Valiquette, Dawes or Prucha deserved this recognition more than Shanahan)
3. Fedor Tyutin – 2 assists

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