2006-02-10 / Sports

NY Hockey Report – Rangers Are New Road Warriors

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist


New York Rangers’ Petr Sykora reacts after scoring a goal with less than a minute to go in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006, in Philadelphia. Rangers won the NHL hockey game in overtime. At left is Flyers’ Mike Richards. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)New York Rangers’ Petr Sykora reacts after scoring a goal with less than a minute to go in the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006, in Philadelphia. Rangers won the NHL hockey game in overtime. At left is Flyers’ Mike Richards. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy) PHILADELPHIA – So much has been said about the New York Rangers rebirth at Madison Square Garden this season, where the team has revitalized the building by their superior play compared to past squads to wear the red, white and blue.

But looking at the numbers, the Blueshirts don’t just excel on the 33 rd Street ice, but also more than hold their own on the road as well with a 15-9-3 record beyond the city limits, including a four game road winning streak. “We look at [away games] as a real challenge for our team,” coach Tom Renney said after his team had a last minute comeback win at Philadelphia’s hostile Wachovia Center. “These guys have identified as a watershed year where we tried to just connect with our fans and have the New York Rangers taken as a real serious team.”

With a two third period goals last Saturday by the Flyers to put them ahead 3-2, the Rangers could have been resigned to taking the loss and catching up to Philly another day. But a last minute flurry allow the team to tie the game with 41 seconds left and a buzzer penalty on the Flyers’ Joni Pitkanen allowed Jaromir Jagr to beat Robert Esche 1:24 into overtime and move the Blueshirts into first place this late in the season for the first time since April, 1996. “We have good goaltending and that’s the bottom line when you face the good teams,” credited Jagr, who has 22 goals with 22 assists away from the Garden this season. “Our goaltending keeps us in the game, every game. With our goaltending, I feel, all we need to do is score two or three goals a game and on the road that’s enough.”

A main part of the reason the Rangers are not blown out on the road is the superior play of netminder Henrik Lundqvist. His exploits at home are well documented with a 15-3-3 mark and a 1.60 goals against average, but he is also impressive when playing out of a suitcase. The 23 year-old currently is 8-4-4 on the road with a slightly higher GAA of 2.79.

“I have to try and stay real focused,” Lundqvist explained. “There is a lot of stuff going on you are not used to. At home, I know the building, the facts and the atmosphere, but on the road I have to focus on the right stuff. A lot of teams get energy from the fans, so a lot of time you play on the road, it gets real tough on the goalie.”

Lundqvist, who find road games “fun,” also said he tries to take the road game one shot at a time and really tries to prevent the opposition from getting that first score, because “when [the opposing team] scores the first goal, they get a lot of energy and I know they will be coming even harder.”

Backup goaltender Kevin Weekes has also been better than average, playing 12 of his 19 games on riding the bus and sporting a 7-5 record.

The Rangers do try hard to take the opposing crowd out of the game or firing up their own fans and their record when doing so is notable. After downing the Flyers, the Blueshirts are 21-2-2 when taking a lead going into the first intermission and 20-1-2 when ahead after two.

They also score more goals on the road with 91 as a team as opposed to 80 at home, but they also have given up 80 road goals while holding the opposition to only 56 at MSG. Those numbers stand to reason, since no team it is always easier to play at home rather than being booed and heckled elsewhere.

But the Rangers do take great pride in competing during their 41 away games.

“These guys really care,” Renney thought. “If you look at our lineup we have a number of Europeans on our roster. They want to make sure the rest of the league understands how competitive they are in any situation. And our North American players are in lockstep with that, so people can see something special here.” Don’t worry Coach, the rest of the league is taking notice.

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