There was a duel at The Garden last night and it was between the two linchpins of the Rangers. Jaromir Jagr and Henrik Lundqvist took turns drawing raves from the crowd as each put on outstanding performances, one offensive and one defensive. Jagr scored a goal and had three assists in a record breaking night and was awarded the number one star of the game. Lundqvist made 33 saves on 35 shots, was deprived of a shutout by excessive Ranger penalties (9), and was awarded the second star of the game. Role player, Petr Prucha, was the third star with a goal and two assists.
Jagr's goal, his 46th, a power play goal tied him with Vic Hadfield (1971-72) for most power play goals in a season, 23. Hadfield, by the way, was the ace left wing on the 1971-72, G-A-G (Goal-A-Game) Line with Rod Gilbert on the right side and Jean Ratelle at center. Jean Ratelle racked up a record 109 points on that line. That was one amazing offensive line with 312 total points (139 goals - 173 assists). As the threesome continued to fill the net that season they were re-named the "TAG Line" for Two-A-Game. Jaromir Jagr is now skating into history with them. Jagr now has the most points by a Ranger right winger, surpassing Rod Gilbert's 97 points in 1971-72 and again in 1974-75.
Jagr's goal combined with his three assists gives him 100 points for the season. So he takes back the league lead over Joe Thornton who has 98 points. Jagr is the sixth Ranger to score 100 points in a season and is headed to the top of the list which is Jean Ratelle's 109 points from his injury shortened 1971-72 season. His forty-six goals leave him six short of Adam Graves' 52 garnered in 1993-94. Jagr got only two shots on goal but it was amazing watching him skate and pass with precision to open Rangers.
What was also amazing was that the Toronto players also seemed to be watching in awe as he skated almost uncontested most of the night. His setups of Petr Sykora and Petr Prucha were things of beauty and a clinic in pinpoint passing. The addition of Sykora and the return of Prucha have added a much needed lift to the offense. The crowd responded to Jagr's performance with chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P."
Henrik Lundqvist should have had a shutout. The Rangers insisted on testing their young goalie by seeing how many penalties they could take. They took nine and killed off seven. They also killed any chance the Prince would have for a shutout. As it was he improved on both his 2.12 GAA and his .926 save percentage. The crowd responded to his performance in the third period with chants of, Hen-reek, Hen-reek, Hen-reek. When Allison scored with 8 minutes to go, on a five on three, the crowd rose to give The Prince a standing ovation. The win was Lundqvist's 27th of the year, third highest for a Ranger rookie goaltender, and two short of the Ranger rookie record of 29 wins held jointly by Johnny Bower, 1953-54, and "Sugar" Jim Henry, 1941-42. The much heralded duel between Lundqvist and his Swedish team mate, Mikael Tellqvist, never materialized as the Toronto goalie was torched in the second period for three goals.
Its tough to put in a negative on the night that the two brightest stars on Broadway shone brilliantly. However the penalty situation is getting out of hand. The penalties for the most part was due to: (a) slowness, (b) laziness, (c) carelessness. It has to stop.
With fifteen games left the games are now playoff type games with power plays playing a big part of the games. Is it reasonable to expect that Henrik Lundqvist stands on his head every night? There are times when it seems that the defense is watching Lundqvist instead of assisting him. The Rangers now have seven defensemen and it is time that we start seeing some kind of rotation before there is a breakdown. Malik for one seems to get slower as the game progresses. I know he missed a few games due to an injury but he seems tired. Is he still hurt? Why not start rotating Jason Strudwick through the defense?
ICINGS: Brian Leetch returns to the Garden for the first time in an enemy uniform. The Bruins are red hot with wins over Ottawa and Carolina and will go for the trifecta against the Rangers to try to come up with wins against the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. Post Olympic record for the final 24 games is now 3-4-1-1.
Jaromir Jagr is skating into New York Rangers history.
NY Rangers TAG (Two-A-Game) Line of 1971-72:
Vic Hadfield - left-wing, 50 goals, 56 assists, 106 points, 78 games
Jean Ratelle - center, 46 goals, 63 assists, 109 points, 63 games
Rod Gilbert - right-wing, 43 goals, 54 assists, 97 points, 73 games
The NY Rangers in 1971-72: 78 games, 48-17-13, 109 points, 317 goals for, 192 goals against.
Note: Jean Ratelle scored his 109 points in only 63 games before a season-ending broken ankle on March 1, 1972. That injury probably cost him the Art Ross Trophy and may have cost the Rangers the Stanley Cup that year.
The Rangers still finished 2nd in the East Division and were ten points behind the Boston Bruins, who were led by Esposito (133 points & Art Ross winner) and Orr (117 points). The Rangers eventually lost to the Boston Bruins in six games.