Dan Blackburn sparkles

By Brandon LeBourveau
The New York Rangers faced off against the New York Islanders last Saturday night and 18-year-old goaltender Dan Blackburn was sensational during the game, stopping 38 of 41 shots in a 4-2 loss.

The Rangers had a 2-0 lead after the first period, as Zdeno Ciger and Theoren Fleury were able to score on Islanders’ goalie Garth Snow. The Islanders finally got on the board at 1:35 of the 2nd period, as Michael Peca was able to finally get one by Blackburn. Peca again scored on Blackburn, this time early in the 3rd period while the Islanders were on a 5 on 3 advantage. Mariusz Czerkawski added a power play goal later in the period and Jason Blake scored a shorthanded empty-net goal to seal the win for the Islanders.

The game certainly was a wild one, and most of the game was played with one of the teams on the power play. It was a dirty game from the beginning, and it all started with Islanders goalie Garth Snow take a cheap shot on Eric Lindros. With the puck dumped into the corner, Lindros and Garth Snow both went to get the puck. When they got to the puck at about the same time, the two players collided and Snow threw his elbow into the head of Lindros. Rangers’ Head Coach Ron Low was furious with the cheap shot, as were the rest of the Rangers. As a result of Snow’s shot to Lindros’ head, a lot of scuffles broke out, including Dale Purinton charging Snow while he was in the crease and was fighting with the netminder. The NHL just recently made an announcement about the incident, suspending Dale Purinton for 4 games for his actions during the game. Dale has already sat out 3 games, and will sit out 1 more to complete the suspension.

The following night the Rangers were back at Madison Square Garden to take on the Philadelphia Flyers. The game marked the first time Pavel Brendl would face the Rangers, his former club, and also Mike Richter started in goal for the first time since going down with a torn ACL last season against Chicago. The final score was 2-1 Rangers, with all the scoring coming in the third period.

Mike Richter played extremely well in a period and a half of action, stopping 17 of 17 shots including a penalty shot by former Ranger Jan Hlavac, before being relieved by Johan Holmqvist. The game was scoless until the 3rd period, Kent Manderville was able to score the first goal of the game mid-way through the 3rd period, beating Holmqvist to the glove side on a shorthanded breakaway. Jan Hlavac for the Flyers and Brian Leetch of the Rangers had golden opportunities to score earlier in the game when both of them had penalty shots, but both failed to capatilize on their chance. Zdeno Ciger responded for the Rangers about three minutes later, one-timing a cross ice pass from Radek Dvorak into the back of the net, beating Flyers goaltender Roman Cechmanek. 3 minutes and 41 seconds later, the Rangers scored what was the eventual game winning goal, a one-timer by Petr Nedved that beat Cechmanek low to the stick side.

Most of the Rangers’ rookies had a quiet game, including Jamie Lundmark, who has impressed management during camp, but hasn’t produced in the pre-season games. Johan Holmqvist looked good in the game, stopping 12 of 13 shots to earn the win. For the Flyers, Pavel Brendl had a quiet game, despite playing on a line with Jiri DoPita and Jan Hlavac for most of the 3rd period. He made some good plays offensively and his talent was evident, but he wasn’t able to produce any goals for the Flyers. During the game Bob Clarke was asked about Pavel Brendl, and he said that if the pre-season ended today (last Sunday), Brendl would be on the Flyers opening night roster.

Two nights later, the Rangers were in New Jersey to take on the Devils. Johan Holmqvist started in net for the Rangers and gave up in a period and a half before being relieved by Peter Skudra. The Devils went on to win the game by a final score of 6-1. Mike York (assists to Dvorak and Peter Smrek) potted the only goal for the Rangers. Former 1st Round pick Mike Rupp, the 9th overall selection in 1998 by the New York Islanders but was not signed and re-entered the 2000 draft only to be scooped up by the Devils, had a goal and an assist for New Jersey. Petr Nedved missed on a penalty shot in the last half of the third period, as he was stopped by Scott Clemmensen, the starting goaltender for the National Champions at Boston College last season.

The Rangers have two pre-season games remaining, a home and home series with the Boston Bruins this weekend. They play in Boston on Saturday night, and at the Garden on Sunday night. Dan Blackburn has not played since last Saturday against the Islanders as he has been nursing a groin pull, but he should be ready to play in at least one of the games against the Bruins. Holmqvist’s performance against the Devils has definitely hurt his chances of winning the backup job, and it has been confirmed that Rangers General Manager Glen Sather has spoken with Blackburn’s agent about a contract. If Blackburn does win the back-up job, he’ll need to sign a contract with the team. If Sather was going to send Blackburn back to the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, he wouldn’t worry about a contract for the young goaltender just yet.