The New York Rangers defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3 - 0 at Madison Square Garden tonight led by a shutout effort by backup goaltender Steve Valiquette.
In his first start of the season, Valiquette only saw 18 shots, but several of those were from trying areas on bad defensive zone turnovers by the Rangers defense.
"Valley made some big saves as key times," said Head Coach John Tortorella. "He goes about his business, he's kind of a forgotten man, but if you want to get where you want to be, he's going to have to play well for us."
Looking more positionally sound than last season, Valiquette kept a calm, focused demeanor throughout a game that ebbed and flowed like the Hudson River. However, Valiquette attributed much of his success to the more consistent defensive play that the Rangers have seen in the past couple games.
"Even sitting on the bench and watching us play versus Washington, I felt like we're finally on the same level as that team and it's nice to see," said Valiquette. "There's a lot of excitement around the team right now, just feeling like we can win every game."
Early on, the Rangers controlled the puck and created all of the offense. Anaheim was held without a shot on goal until the 7:00 minute mark of the period and could not get out of their own zone, still lagging from last night's game in Philadelphia. The Rangers totaled five shots in the first four minutes as Tortorella continued to heavily play his top two lines.
The old adage of "whoever wins the battle on the boards, wins the game" held true as the first period saw the Rangers outwork Anaheim along the boards and be the first to every loose puck.
However, their work ethic and opportunities weren't initially rewarded as the period ended scoreless. Despite having 13 shots, and two power plays, the Rangers couldn't find the back of the net.
As the second period began, the tides turned as the Ducks found their legs and brought the physical presence that they have become known for. They created some offensive pressure as the Rangers seemed to get lost in their own zone.
But Valiquette stood tall and the Rangers would eventually match Anaheim's intensity. Vinny Prospal showed a physical edge to him that wasn't necessarily on his resume, stepping up as a veteran leader should. Others then followed suit, such as Brian Boyle who had a very noticeable two-way game and saw time on the penalty kill.
"[Boyle] was fantastic for us," said Valiquette. "He made several huge plays and if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have the shutout tonight."
Throughout the second period, both teams traded opportunities. Ales Kotalik took an offensive zone tripping penalty midway through the period. Anaheim couldn't capitalize and Marian Gaborik came down as the penalty was expiring and ripped a shot off the crossbar.
Marc Staal then gave away the puck from his own zone, trying to pass through the slo. The puck was intercepted by Todd Marchant who came in on the breakaway looking to go high on the Rangers' netminder. Valiquette stopped the high blocker attempt and a few minutes later, Kotalik came down and hit the post from the faceoff circle.
The period would end still scoreless with the Rangers having a 24 - 12 shot advantage.
But following a more physical period, the Ducks couldn't sustain their energy. Anaheim lost their steam and the Rangers regained the momentum that they carried in the first period. The sluggish play by the Ducks led to a critical penalty a little over a minute into the period.
Anaheim's Ryan Whitney would be called for roughing in retaliation against Sean Avery, who did what he does best.
Halfway through the power play, Gaborik would feed Mike DelZotto cross ice at the point who then made a soft pass to the side faceoff circle to Kotalik.
Kotalik would hit the one-timer and with a little help from a deflection off defender Scott Niedermeyer's stick, the Rangers took the 1 - 0 lead.
"We had some chances and we just had to stay with it and be patient," said Kotalik. "I had pretty good wood on it and it may have hit Niedermeyer's stick and went above Giguere's shoulder, but those are the lucky ones and we'll take it."
The power play would answer again for the Rangers with under six minutes remaining as Evgeni Artyukhin would be called for a four minute, double minor for high sticking.
At the onset of the man advantage, the Rangers had trouble breaking out and establishing any setup time in the offensive zone. Some forced passing gave Anaheim the opportunity to keep the puck in New York's end for most of the first two minutes of the power play.
Then Tortorella put out a line of Avery, Prospal, and Artem Anisimov who were able to work the puck in deep and control it along the boards. Avery, after being knocked down behind the net, fed Prospal in the corner who found a wide open Anisimov in the slot.
The rookie center took the pass and lifted a shot to the far post, beating Giguere for his first ever NHL goal.
Dan Girardi would add an empty netter from his own goal line to seal the victory for the Rangers.
The Rangers will look to improve their winning streak to five games against Toronto tomorrow night.
NOTES AND QUOTES:
- The Three Stars of the Game: 3. Vinny Prospal 2. Ales Kotalik 1. Steve Valiquette
- Wade Redden: "We knew they were going to come at us, but we didn't falter from anything we needed to do." "We were doing a good job of putting pressure on their defense."
- Sean Avery made his season debut at 17:45 in the first period to a sea of cheers from the crowd. He looked in good shape, played a physical game, but only played 10:42 minutes.
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