Martin Biron breeds horses at his Overtime Farms but in his Rangers debut tonight, it took him just 60 minutes to turn back the previously undefeated Maple Leafs, 2-1.
“We skated as hard as we’ve skated all year,” said Biron, who was aided by 30 blocked shots and five effective penalty kills. Nonetheless, the 33-year-old made 24 saves, including a critical stop on Kris Versteeg’s breakaway late in the third period to preserve the one-goal lead.
“The puck bounced a little at the hashmarks,” Biron said. “He took a shot and I was able to have the pad and glove there. Even then, with the back pressure our guys put on him, maybe he had to jump the gun. It easily could have turned around and been all Leafs the rest of the night. The last three or four minutes, 6 on 5, we didn’t give them anything.”
Biron, who was 7-3-1 in his final 11 starts with the Islanders last season, was the Rangers first free-agent signing on July 1. To rest Henrik Lundqvist more this season, coach John Tortorella has planned for the goaltender, who has appeared in 463 games, to start between 15 and 20 games.
Even with all that experience, Biron confessed to “butterflies before the game…but you come in after the first and we’re up 2-0; that definitely helps a lot. After that it was just about sticking to the routine and the game plan.”
Like Biron, the Rangers (2-2-1) did almost everything well in the first 20 minutes, throwing 15 shots on Jonas Gustavsson, breaking up Leafs rushes in the neutral zone, blocking 13 shots and scoring twice in 1:01. Derek Stepan shouldered around defenseman Francois Beauchemin in the right circle and his shot slid to the line where it was poked in by Ruslan Fedotenko at 16:11 for his first goal as a Ranger. Michal Rozsival’s tape-to-tape pass to Artem Anisimov from the right side to the doorstep extended the lead. It was Anisimov’s second goal of the year.
“Just one of those games where it’s almost like a do or die situation,” said Michael Del Zotto, who blocked 7 shots and Dan Girardi six. “We wanted to come out and take the crowd out of it. It was probably our best game of the year as far as being aggressive.”
At 3:41 of the second, Biron slammed the door on Mikhail Grabovski from point blank range, then denied both Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel. It could have been 3-0 at the ten-minute mark, but Matt Gilroy's shot off the rush hit the crossbar and Alex Frolov couldn't cash in the rebound.
The Rangers held the Leafs shotless for nearly10 minutes to begin the third, but Toronto halved the lead after Clark MacArthur got past Girardi and Colby Armstrong knocked in the rebound at 11:04. But the Rangers kept counterattacking.
“The biggest thing was not allowing them to build up the speed in the neutral zone,” said Ryan Callahan. “It was a good joint effort, the D stepping up and us coming back. …It’s only game five but you don’t want to let too many games get away. We weren’t playing our best the last couple games and coming on this road trip, we as a group said, “Nip this in the bud now.”
Notes & Quotes
The Rangers allowed just six shots in the third period to preserve the lead.
Tortorella: "The neutral zone play is where we really improved. That’s the way we have to play. The penalty kill was great, but we blocked shots, we had sticks in passing lanes….It's just the mindset of taking a chance and staying up...We tried to up our forecheck, we had support on our pinches, we blocked shots, I thought everybody contributed in that part of the game."
Tortorella on Biron: "He made a couple big saves in the third period, Versteeg on the breakway... he just looked solid. It’s a good thing for us, so we don’t overuse Hank."
Callahan on Biron: "That’s what we needed from him. It was definitely a good first game for him to settle in, too. We all know he's a good goalie."
Every Ranger blocked at least one shot, except for Derek Boogaard, Artrm Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Erik Christensen. Biron: "They weren't just like little blocked shots, they were guys sacrificing, guys getting in the way on the PK."
Ruslan Fedotenko had a team-high five shots....