Sunday, November 11, 2007

Avery’s Hat Trick Beats Maple Leafs

It is typically called the “Gordie Howe” hat trick, but nowadays most fans don’t even know who won the Stanley Cup last year let alone who some surly 79-year old Canadian is. So, Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Sean Avery made an attempt to update the term as he scored a goal, got an assist and fought.

By doing so he energized the Rangers toward a 3-2 shootout victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It would be the first victory the Rangers have picked up on the road so far this season.

It was also the first time that Stephen Valiquette, and not Henrik Lundqvist, got the start all season for the Rangers. Valiquette was strong in net allowing only two goals on 34 shots and did not allow any goals past him during the shootout.

The Maple Leafs goalie, Vesa Toskala, was not as lucky. During the shootout he gave up the first goal to the very first shooter, Brendan Shanahan, to put the Rangers up 1-0. The Rangers won the game on the next shot when Marcel Hossa used some fancy puck handling to avoid a poke check from the goalie before scoring.

Hossa finished off a long and intense game where action began during the pre-game skate between Avery and Darcy Tucker. The pair then confronted each other early when they each took unsportsmanlike conduct penalties 11 minutes into the first period when Tucker challenged Avery to a fight.

The two minutes in the box made Avery change his mind and within 10 seconds of getting out of the box the gloves were dropped. Punches were exchanged as Avery eventually came down on top of Tucker and the referees broke up the action.

In the second period Avery proved he’s more than just a goon when he made a great pass from behind the net right onto the stick of Shanahan who scored his fifth goal of the season to put the Rangers ahead 1-0.

After the goal the line remained on the ice and this time Shanahan helped Avery complete his unique hat trick by knocking the puck out of mid-air and on goal. Toskala made the save, but with Avery right at the doorstep he was quickly able to score on the rebound giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

The Rangers played a very strong second period. Scott Gomez consistently made good passes to Avery and Shanahan and Toronto had trouble getting the puck out of their defensive zone for most of the period.

After about 15 minutes of Ranger domination the Maple Leafs were able to salvage something by playing very strong hockey to end the period. Late in the second the blue-shirts began to make mistakes and Toronto was able to take advantage.

The turning point came when McCabe took Gomez off his feet in front of the Toronto net. Gomez was angry that there was no call on the play and got even more upset when Toskala put his catching glove on his head to hold him down on the ice. He finally got up and took a roughing penalty for pushing the goalie in frustration. The Rangers were technically able to kill off the penalty, but Gomez wasn’t out of the box for two seconds when Alexi Ponikarovsky blasted a high rising shot past Valiquette to put the Maple Leafs on the board.

Just two minutes later the Rangers had another brief lapse that lead to the tying goal. This time Andy Wozniewski was able to intercept a pass in the neutral zone before feeding it to Mats Sundin. Sundin then forced his way toward the net doing a good job protecting the puck before taking a shot from the slot. Valiquette made the save but left a nice rebound for Ponikarovsky who tied the game with his second goal of the night.

Each team had chances during the third period to put the game away and both failed. The closest call came when Valiquette left the crease to make a pass to neutral ice only to have that pass intercepted by Nik Antropov. The play was a major faux pas and Valiquette was lucky to get back in time to make a great kick save to keep the game tied.

This was a big win for the Rangers. They were finally able to get that elusive victory on the road and they proved that they can win without Lundqvist in net. The game also showed that even when Jaromir Jagr is not at his best the Avery’s line can still step up.

Read more NY sports at Hot Stove New York.

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