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Rangers-Canadiens: Blueshirts Cruising to the Finish Line

To say that the Rangers have been breezin’ along with the breeze would be as obvious as suggesting that the Hudson River is wet.

As the finish line looms closer, the Blueshirts, with their 50th win, lead all teams in the league with 107 points, one point more than the St. Louis Blues.

“I don’t want to minimize what we’ve accomplished,” said John Tortorella, “but the real stuff – the playoffs – is coming soon.”

With all but first place in the Eastern Conference gift-wrapped, Tortorella’s troops would like to maintain their positive pace while once and for all depositing Pittsburgh out of contention for the top spot.

On Friday night at The Garden the visiting Canadiens -- they have turned “hapless” into their middle name -- were not expected to be a major threat; nor were they. The 4-1 Blueshirts victory defined the contest.

“We’re playing well,” Marian Gaborik said, “creating chances and we’ve scored some goals the past couple games.”

Sharing the wealth, New York spread the goals among Gaborik, Brad Richards and Michael Del Zotto, the latter with a pair in the third period.

For one period at least, the visitors made a game of it. The Blueshirts’ Gaborik was the only red-lighter, illuminating the globe at 9:56.

Organizing the play, Richards found Gaborik in the high slot. The Rangers leading goal-scorer whiffed on his initial shot. But Gabby corralled the loose puck, and on his second try beat goalie Carey Price on the right side.

The Rangers went two-for-two on their penalty-kill and exited the opening frame with a one-goal lead. Of his seven saves, Henrik Lundqvist was called on for two superior stops.

Richards doubled the Rangers lead on New York’s first power play half-a-minute into the second period.

After collecting a pass from Derek Stepan, Richards snapped a shot from between the circles. The screened Habs goaltender was unable to find the puck with his blocker, giving the Rangers a 2-0 advantage entering the third period.

Despite the lead Montreal revved up its attack late in the middle frame but the Habs were kept off the score sheet by Lundqvist, who remained as sharp in the second as he was in the first. Henny eventually would be named first star of the game.

“It’s not easy to play a team that doesn’t have that urgency and desperation sometimes,” Lundqvist said. “We needed to step up and play our game and we did.”

Any hopes that the Canadiens had for gaining two points were dashed at 8:17 of the third period as the Blueshirts cashed in on a second power play.

By this time the Rangers constant blitz had apparently worn down Price. Del Zotto’s eminently stoppable shot dribbled right through the goaltender’s pads, giving Michael his first power play goal of the season.

“We know if we get our power play going come playoff time we are going to be a tough team to stop,” Del Zotto said.

Del Zotto registered his second goal of the night moments later, giving him a career-high ten for the season.

Gaborik found Del Zotto streaking into the Habs’ zone fresh off the bench. The defenseman’s wrist shot cleanly beat the embattled Price’s glove.

Lundqvist’s shutout was spoiled late in the third by Rene Bourque. By that time it was too little too late for the visitors.

With the clinching of first place in sight, Torts’ skaters will face the defending champion Bruins on Sunday night at The Garden.

“I want us to win the next four games,” concluded Tortorella. “But, in the end, we’ll be measured by the playoffs.”


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