SAN JOSE---Brandon Dubinsky knew his first ever shootout goal wasn't pretty, but it was effective.
"I think he fanned on it a little," said Rangers coach John Tortorella, who used Dubinsky in the sixth round of last night's shootout. Dubinsky managed to slide the puck under Antti Niemi's pad for the winner in a 3-2 defeat of the Sharks, as the Blueshirts grabbed two hard-fought points and crept back into seventh place in the east with 76 points.
"It crossed the line didn't it?" said Dubinsky, who was 0-for-5 in previous shootouts. "What were we, six deep? I knew my name would come out of the hat sooner or later...I was hoping it didn't get there."
In a rugged second and final game of this West Coast trip, the Rangers (36-30-4, 76 points) edged past the Sabres (74 points), who lost to the Leafs yesterday, and moved four points ahead of the ninth-place Hurricanes, who lost to the Blue Jackets as the stretch run heated up. "We knew how big it was with the teams that lost tonight," said Dubinsky. And it was equally important to erase the taste of a 5-2 pounding in Anaheim on Wednesday.
"We had two days to really think what went wrong the other night," said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 31 saves and stopped five of six Sharks in the shootout. "We were back to working hard, being strong on the puck. If you want to make it, it's not so much about being outstanding, it's being consistent, you can't afford to let it slide. This game was so important for us. We need to play well, but more important, we need the points. We got both."
Wojtek Wolski, who extended the shootout with a goal in the third round, and Dubinsky, were the only two Rangers to solve Niemi, as the Rangers boosted their record to 8-2 in the shootouts.
"We salvaged the trip," said Tortorella. "The first couple periods we were really good, in the third period they put us on our heels a bit. Hank played really strong for us, It's a good answer."
Marc Staal, with one of his more physical games in weeks, played 30:31 and flattened Kyle Wellwood with a shoulder in the second, perhaps his most emphatic play. "I wanted to get back to that (physical play) just to keep their guys on their toes a bit. They weren't happy (with it). I caught him pretty good."
In the third period, with the scored tied at 2, Ryan Callahan went off for hooking Joe Thornton at 6:4. The Sharks (39-22-8) had been 1-for-2 on the power play, but the Rangers killed the penalty as Lundqvist stopped Devin Setoguchi's blast with his right shoulder at the very end. Lundqvist made another game saver with 8:55 left, gloving Jason Demers' re-direction on a rush and stopped Patrick Marleau with less than four minutes to go. "It was a good way to respond," said Staal. "We didnt have the puck a whole lot in the third period but we found a way to grind it out."
The pace and physical play that started when the puck dropped here at HP Pavillion continued in the second. Rookie defenseman Michael Sauer’s second goal of the season, a low slap shot from the left side after he pounced on a loose puck, went past Niemi while he was screened by Brian Boyle in front at 1:16 to give the Rangers, who were down 1-0 at 12:30 of the first, a 2-1 lead.
A desperate play by Justin Braun at the eight-minute mark kept the Rangers from a two-goal cushion. Derek Stepan’s shot slid under Niemi to the goal line, but Braun’s stick swept the puck away.
The Sharks responded to tie the game at 2 at 16:26, when Torrey Mitchell’s shot appeared to hit two players before the raised blade of Ben Eager's stick and past past Lundqvist on the short side. The period ended with the shots 18-17 in favor of the Sharks and with both Brandon Prust and Eager off for unsportsmanlike conduct.
In the first half of an intense first period, the Rangers withstood a tremendous charge by the Sharks, as Lundqvist was sharp, stopping Dan Boyle on a cut-in to the slot and Joe Pavelski on a wraparound. Prust took a shoulder to the mouth from Douglas Murray at 3:58 and then about eight minutes later, challenged Eager.
Matt Gilroy went off for hooking at 12:19, and the Rangers fell behind just 11 seconds later on a deflection, similar to the ones that the Ducks benefitted from on Wednesday. After a tip of Boyle’s cross-ice pass by Logan Couture, Ryan Clowe wound up and his high riser from the right side hit Staal’s arm and flew past Lundqvist at 12:30 for a 1-0 lead. Staal has been stung with an uncalled high stick seconds earlier.
Seventeen seconds after the goal, all ten skaters engaged in a scrum behind the Rangers net and Couture went off for goaltender interference. The Rangers couldn’t cash in, but the forecheck and cycle started to improve. Callahan’s pass from behind the net found Artem Anisimov, whose shot was gloved by Niemi, but when Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal battled the Sharks behind the goal line, Erik Christensen slipped in front to convert Prospal’s pass at 16:57 for the tie. For Christensen, it was his 10th goal, and came after being a healthy scratch for the last two games. Prospal’s assist extended his point streak to six games, and the Rangers finished with the last six shots of the period.
"It's nice to be in seventh rather than eighth, but we've still got a lot of work to do," said Dan Girardi, who matched Staal's effort in playing 30:11. "It showed we can respond well from a tough loss, they're one of the best teams in the West and to play like that, it's a lot of confidence for us."