SAN JOSE, Calif. – The New York Rangers are finally starting to take advantage of opportunities to move up in the Eastern Conference.
Brandon Dubinsky scored the winning goal in the sixth round of a shootout, lifting the Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night after others teams jostling for playoff positioning lost.
“I figured there’d be a chance for me and my name would come out of the hat at sometime,” Dubinsky said. “It wasn’t a pretty game and they had some chances. We have to be sure to win our games that are left and let the rest league figure it out.”
Wojtek Wolski scored the only other goal in the shootout for the Rangers, who rode 31 saves by Henrik Lundqvist through overtime for a thrilling road win. They are alone in seventh in the Eastern Conference, moving two points ahead of Buffalo and four over ninth-place Carolina after both lost Saturday.
Wolski extended the shootout to extra rounds when he kept the Rangers alive by scoring in the third, flicking a wrist shot past Antti Niemi’s stick and setting the stage for Lundqvist to close it out.
“I really played my game,” Lundqvist said. “We were pretty calm in the third. Their top two lines are really strong, but we had two days to really think about what went wrong the other night in Anaheim. We haven’t had a lot of games where were that flat, but tonight we came out really hard and strong. This game was so important for us. We needed the points.”
The Sharks suddenly can’t seem to score in a shootout.
Ryane Clowe and Ben Eager each had a goal, and Dan Boyle was the lone San Jose player to beat Lundqvist in the tiebreaker. The Sharks finished a six-game homestand with two consecutive shootout losses after falling to NHL-leading Vancouver on Thursday.
“We’re at the point of the season now where a point isn’t good enough,” Boyle said. “We had our chances, for sure. You never know if that point could cost us in the end. Hopefully it doesn’t.”
New York closed this one in dramatic fashion, too.
Lundqvist had a series of saves in the final minute of the third period and overtime, and he didn’t disappoint in the shootout. He allowed only Boyle’s shot to get by him. He lost his goalie stick and flung his arms in the air in frustration afterward.
He was flawless from there, giving Dubinsky the chance to zip a wrister past Niemi’s stick as he tried to cover the net, touching off a celebrating at centre ice. The Rangers played physical throughout, much like a team trying to make a playoff push, and far different from a lacklustre 5-2 loss at Anaheim on Wednesday.
New York needed every bit of effort to pull out this win.
Clowe gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead in the first period on a slap shot from the right side, a drive that deflected off Rangers defenceman Marc Staal and got past Lundqvist’s glove for a power-play goal. Clowe tied his career high with his 22nd goal, matching his total of the 2008-09 season.
Seconds later, Logan Couture was called for goaltender interference on Lundqvist, setting off a 10-man scrum with a series of pushes and punches that went unpenalized. San Jose killed off the power play, but Erik Christensen took a pass from Vinny Prospal behind the net a few minutes later and beat Niemi stick side to tie it.
The end-to-end action never relented.
After Clowe shattered his stick in a scramble for the puck, Michael Sauer sent a slapshot past Clowe’s defenceless body and into the back of the net to put New York ahead 2-1. The Rangers almost took a two-goal advantage when Derek Stepan slipped the puck through Niemi’s legs, but Justin Braun swooped in to swipe the puck away just before it crossed the goal-line.
That save swung the momentum back to the Sharks, who pushed up ice and peppered shots at Lundqvist. They sneaked one through to make it 2-2 moments later, when Eager redirected Torrey Mitchell’s shot.
Niemi got a boost from his defence that held the Rangers to only five shots in the third period and overtime. He finished with 20 saves before the shootout, and still wasn’t the better goalie on this night.
“It’s a little bit of frustration after we played so well in the third period,” Sharks coach Scott McLellan said. “The will and the desire is there. We just couldn’t put it past Lundqvist late.”
Notes: Noted agitator Sean Avery was scratched from New York’s lineup for the first time this season. … In an odd bit of scheduling, the Rangers played only two games on their West Coast trip. They will return home to face the New York Islanders on Tuesday. … A moment of silence was held before the game for victims of the tsunami and earthquakes in Japan.