New York Rangers' Michal Rozsival looked like he might be done for the series when an Ales Kotalik check drove him out of Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinals. But there he was, back in the lineup for Game Two, refusing to surrender to an ailing knee.
And the Rangers feared Rozsival might be cooked again when Dmitri Kalinin took him out with a hip check at the end of the first period of Game Two, sending him off the ice limping. He never even missed a shift.
Rozsival, 28, has been an irrepressible force for the Rangers this series, their defensive rock. He would have been one of the heroes of a New York victory Sunday even if he hadn't scored the winning goal, or even figured in the decisive play. His influence on their backline can't be overstated.
Talk about a workhorse. Rozsival, a native of the Czech Republic, played 38:16 in New York's double-overtime win, four minutes more than any skater on either team. He logged more than 10 minutes of ice time while the Rangers were short-handed. He recorded a game-high eight of New York's 34 blocks. He administered three hits. And he produced three shots of his own, including the one that resulted in the winning goal.
"He's a warrior," said Rangers winger Brendan Shanahan.
"That's what champions look like," said Rangers coach Tom Renney. "My guess is that he won't be the only guy aching and sore. Those kinds of things, as you make your way through the playoffs, the guys who lift the Stanley Cup are pretty beat up and sore."
The Sabres came out winners in a replay review for the fourth time this postseason when it was determined Karel Rachunek had directed the puck into the net with his skate, a goal that would have given the Rangers a 2-0 lead 3:36 into the second period. The decision to take the goal off the board was debatable going by the letter of the rule, which disallows a goal that's scored via a "distinct kicking motion."
Rachunek made no such "distinct" motion, although his forward momentum was a factor in driving the puck into the net. Still, the league has a recent history of disallowing goals scored in similar fashion, which means it might be time to reword the rule.
"Our video coach made his way to the bench," said Rangers coach Tom Renney. "Pretty animated. It was not a kicking motion. It has to be a distinct kicking motion. If that's distinct we're all in trouble."
Renney chuckled when asked if he'd be seeking a more detailed explanation from replay officials in Toronto.
"After that comment they might be getting in touch with me," he said. "I don't mean to make light of the situation. I think those kind of things have to be clarified."
No controversy arose when the first overtime ended with officials conducting another replay review. It appeared a shot from the left face-off circle by Derek Roy might have caught net with 58 seconds left. Replays showed the puck struck the inside of the post and caromed back out. The Sabres were short-handed at the time.
The main press area in Madison Square Garden is in the corner, to the left of the opposing goaltender, at the end at which the Rangers shoot twice, just above the visitors' entrance tunnel. What do seats go for in that area? Try $225 for this round, $185 for last round and $125 for the regular season. Season ticket-holders receive no postseason discounts, nothing more than the ability to retain their seats for the playoffs. But they do have the luxury of waitress service.
The Sabres got off to another slow start. One game after they managed four shots in the first period they came back to record five despite two power plays. They were out-hit, 13-3.
After nearly 97 minutes of intense action, Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere was asked to assess his team's first-period performance in Game Three.
"It's so long ago, I can't even remember," Briere said with a nervous laugh, trying to recall something about the opening 20 minutes. "I don't even know what to say. The one thing I remember was the crowd was into it."
Rangers defenseman Marek Malik, the goat in Game Two who threw the puck away in the Rangers zone to allow the Sabres to tie the game in the third period, was booed by the Madison Square Garden faithful every time he touched the puck early in Game Three.
Malik drew the crowd's ire again with 9:12 left in the first overtime, when was penalized for hooking Thomas Vanek. The Sabres didn't register a shot on the power play, saving Malik from further howls.
"It's disappointing," Renney said of the fans' treatment. "I understand mistakes are made out there. Sometimes, as games are chronicled over the airwaves, too, we invite those problems for players. And that's not fair.
"Marek is a hell of a teammate, and he's a great, great man. He's one of those guys that if you could pick your neighbors to live beside you he'd probably be one of them. He cares about everybody and everything. He's laying it on the line. His teammates appreciate him, and at the end of the day that's the most important thing."
A sign that Maxim Afinogenov is starting to get it: His first-period shifts averaged 33 seconds, some 20 seconds less than how long he typically lingers. He averaged 53 seconds a shift in Game Two. Coach Lindy Ruff has often said that quick shifts are the key to rolling four lines and keeping everyone in the flow of the game. . . . The Sabres are scheduled to practice at the Garden this afternoon while the Rangers will work in their suburban practice facility.
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