It was the moment that you could sense the fortunes of the Rangers shifted.
With the Coyotes leading 3-1, on a power play and with time ticking away on the clock near the end of the second period last night, goaltender Jason LaBarbara hesitated. Brandon Prust didn’t.
LaBarbera began skating to his left to play Dan Girardi’s clearing pass, decided he couldn’t make the play, and began to retreat. But Prust raced in, scooped up the puck, circled to the net and put it past the former Ranger netminder with six seconds left.
“I knew he was having trouble getting to it,” said Prust of his third shorthander of the season, a huge turning point in the Rangers 4-3 shootout win at Madison Square Garden. “I knew he was going to take a penalty or I was going to be on the puck.”
Rookie Derek Stepan also was on the puck, firing Chris Dury’s rebound past LaBarbera at 14:17 of the third period to square the game at three and Erik Christensen scored the lone goal of the shootout to cap the comeback and nail down the Blueshirts’ 20th win of the season.
LaBarbera’s gaffe mirrored the mistake by an initially rusty Martin Biron, who allowed the opening goal on the first Coyotes shot at 1:27. Biron, who hadn’t played since being pulled against the Islanders on Dec. 2, skated behind the net on a long dump-in with Brian Boyle in the box, but the puck took an odd bounce off the boards. Taylor Pyatt pounced and slid it under the not-so-quick-to-recover Biron.
“It was a mistake,” said Biron. “It hit the inside of my leg. If I hadn’t been there it might’ve slid by. Biron never saw Adian Aucoin’s 45-foot screened shot that defelected off his glove to make it 2-0 at 5:53, but he heard the chants of “Hen-rik, Hen-rik”.
“Dru skated by a slapped me in the pad and said “Show them what you’ve got,” Biron said. “I felt pretty good that the captain skated by and gave me a vote of confidence. That helped me a lot to get back in the game.”
Biron recovered, allowing only a power play goal from Martin Hanzal alone in the slot, turning away 30 shots in regulation and stopping Lee Stempniak and Radim Vrbata in the shootout. On the third attempt, Biron stayed patient, tracked Eric Belanger to his right, denying any angle, and Belanger lost the puck as the Garden faithful roared.
Tortorella also chose not to start Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed just one goal in the two victories over Pittsburgh and Washington because he wanted Biron to see some action.
“I look at Marty Biron as a capsule of how we play,” said John Tortorella. “He battled, there were people chanting for Hank, that’s a hard thing. I couldn’t be happier for Marty Biron, he fought through a lot of stuff to make it happen.”
With their third straight win, rhe Rangers (20-14-1) also extended their perfect record in the second games of back-to-backs this season to 9-0.
“We just choose to play hard every night,” said Drury, who won the faceoff that led to Stepan’s first goal at the Garden. “We know if we keep doing that, good things will happen.”