They beat Tampa Bay, 2-1, for second straight night to sweep opening series in Czech Republic
PRAGUE, Czech Republic - A weeklong European road trip
culminated yesterday with the Rangers' signature center-ice, raised-sticks salute to an appreciative crowd after a two-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning and an impressive opening to the 2008-09 season.
Call it a Czech-mate.
"We should start the year here every year," said center Scott Gomez, who had a goal and assist in the 2-1 victory, which featured the same lineup, the same score, the same territorial dominance and the same shot-limiting defense as the first game Saturday.
"It's been a better experience for us coming away with four points, but it's a beautiful city, everybody treated us first-class, and we came closer as a team," Gomez said. "This is going to be the look of the team, 60 minutes like that, speed, in your face. With the first couple games on the road, we would've liked a couple more goals, but a win's a win."
During the back-to-back games at O2 Arena, the Rangers outshot Tampa Bay 80-40 and killed all nine Lightning power plays. By the end of the second period yesterday, Chris Drury had eight shots. The entire Tampa Bay team had nine.
"We really stepped on the gas tonight," Brandon Dubinsky said. "We weren't going to be happy without four points. Everybody contributed, everybody had a part in it. It was pretty smothering by us."
Defenseman Wade Redden, a summer free-agent signing, assisted on Gomez's game-winner at 12:12 of the second period after scoring his first goal as a Ranger on a power play at 3:47 of the period.
The Rangers scored with a man-advantage in each game. This time Redden crept into the slot and wired a pass from Markus Naslund past goaltender Olaf Kolzig.
"I think me and Rozy [ Michal Rozsival] have been working well together and trying to read off each other," Redden said, "and the power play's been getting some chances. I'm happy about that, but we can build on it even more."
To be fair, Tampa Bay is struggling. Star center Vinny Lecavalier isn't fully recovered from shoulder surgery, the defense is shaky and coach Barry Melrose ripped his club's veterans in postgame comments.
"We're too easy to play against," Melrose said. "Until that changes, we're going to have trouble. We have a lot of skill on our team, but skill don't mean nothing if you don't work hard, and we're being outworked."
There's little doubt that the Rangers had more energy. Although coach Tom Renney fretted about turnovers, he praised "the way we tried to forecheck, the way we tried to put pucks to the net and tried to go there. I liked our work habits coming back."
For the second night in a row, the Rangers swatted and flailed at doorstep rebounds and jammed loose pucks into the goaltender. Last night, despite the effort, they fell behind 1-0 when Henrik Lundqvist (18 saves) failed to squeeze Andrej Meszaros' point shot between his pads and Adam Hall tucked the puck in from behind the kneeling goaltender at 18:17 of the opening period, in which the Rangers held a 15-3 edge in shots.
But after that, Tampa Bay went more than 11 minutes without a shot from inside the red line and Redden and Gomez erased the lead.
The most sustained end-to-end action was punctuated when Steven Stamkos hit the crossbar on a shot that ripped past Lundqvist's glove with six minutes left in the second.
Tampa Bay gamely tried to recover in the final 20 minutes. "It was almost like we were too cautious," Renney said. "I don't think there was a shift in focus. We lost sight of what had gotten us momentum in the first place."
Said Redden: "They came at us harder, so it was good to hold them off and get the win."
The unbeaten Rangers next face the Blackhawks in their home opener Friday, hoping to offer another salute - this time at the Garden.
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