NEW YORK – Sean Avery’s edge, dry sense of humour and even his missing scoring touch came rushing back all at once.
The timing was perfect, too, because he unleashed it all on the Dallas Stars – the team that dumped him last season. Avery exacted his revenge by scoring a goal and setting up three others in the New York Rangers’ 5-2 victory Wednesday night.
Avery’s stay with the Stars lasted only 23 games into a US$15.5 million, four-year contract that he signed before last season after leaving the Rangers as a free agent. The agitating forward quickly wore out his welcome in Dallas, and was suspended by the NHL in December after making crude comments about his former girlfriends dating other players. He never again played for the Stars, who waived him in February.
Avery was claimed soon after by the Rangers, with whom he finished the season. He hadn’t faced Dallas since.
“I would have loved to have seen that delinquent do that for us last year,” Stars goalie Marty Turco said. “I didn’t think (four points) was possible. He has a good shot and he always has worked hard. His intelligence on the ice has always been an issue, and was with us when he was here.”
Now the Stars and Rangers are splitting Avery’s salary, a point not lost on the loquacious Avery when he was asked what was different about this game.
“Well, I was getting paid by two teams,” Avery said.
After Brad Richards staked Dallas to a 1-0 lead 2:17 in, Avery tied it 1:46 later with his first goal in 20 games during a power play. He assisted on goals by Marian Gaborik, Ales Kotalik and Chris Drury to help the Rangers win their second straight at home after a 1-5-3 skid there.
Avery hadn’t had as many as three points in a game since April 1, 2007. Four points matched a career high.
“It was the way that Sean Avery needs to play,” Avery said of himself. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. That’s just the way it has to happen for me to be effective. I’ve got to stay consistent.”
New York, outshot 27-25, is 7-1-2 in its last 10 overall. Ryan Callahan’s empty-net goal made it 5-2 with 1:05 left
Jere Lehtinen lifted Dallas into a 2-2 tie in the second period, but the Stars dropped their third straight.
Avery drew great attention throughout the game, and initiated skirmishes and discussions after the whistle. He occupied the seat closest to the partition that separated the benches and continued talking to the Stars from there.
He got into trouble with the referees after assisting on Ales Kotalik’s go-ahead goal at 8:23 of the second period. Avery went well out of his way to shove Lehtinen and was given a 10-minute misconduct. Then he was called for cross-checking Tom Wandell early in the third period, but the Rangers killed that power play.
“I’m happy for him,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “I think he has struggled as of late. … I wish he didn’t take the misconduct, because I think it took him out of the game a little bit.”
Avery had earlier confrontations with defenceman Nicklas Grossman, Turco, Richards and Dallas captain Brenden Morrow. Several Stars, including Turco and Mike Modano, were critical of Avery at the time of his suspension that led to his departure from Dallas, and that anger still seemed present.
“He played well,” Stars coach Marc Crawford said. “He had no impact on our guys’ lack of execution. That would be giving him far too much credit. Give him credit on fashion.”
Following Drury’s tip-in of Avery’s shot 8:57 into the third, Avery was knocked down in the slot by Jamie Benn just as he was about to celebrate with his teammates.
“It is a pretty good night when you have four points against a team that didn’t want you a year ago,” Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said.
Tortorella disputed reports that the Rangers have tried to inhibit Avery’s style.
“There has been no leash or handcuffs on Sean Avery,” he said. “We have really tried to push him the past couple of months in trying to get his game back and to play this way. I want Sean Avery on edge … when he crosses the line, it is my job to try to bring him back.”
Richards made it 1-0 when he pass attempt to Lehtinen hit diving defenceman Marc Staal in front and caromed in off Lundqvist’s skate.
Gaborik gave the Rangers their first lead when he scored his NHL-leading 28th goal with 4:13 left in the first. Lehtinen tied it at 2 just 2:07 into the second when his drive hit the blade of Drury’s stick and sailed past the unsuspecting Lundqvist.
Kotalik, who went 21 games without a goal before scoring in the Rangers’ 3-2 win over Boston on Monday, found the net again with a slap shot from the right point to make it 3-2 at 8:23 of the second.
Lundqvist made 25 saves, including one during Dallas’ 5-on-3 power play in the second period.
NOTES: Avery’s other four-point game was March 17, 2007, versus Boston. He hadn’t scored since Nov. 23. … Dallas C Mike Ribeiro was accidentally hit in the throat by New York’s Christopher Higgins during a second-period collision at centre ice. Higgins, who didn’t see Ribeiro as they crossed paths, received a high-sticking penalty. Ribeiro was taken to a hospital to be evaluated. … The teams combined to go 1 for 12 on the power play.