Aside from an out of character loss to the Toronto Majors on home ice earlier in the season, the Rangers have been completely dominant against the Eastern conference. On the road they have a perfect record, perhaps only tainted by a shootout win in Ottawa and an overtime victory in Kingston. On this night the Rangers may have put an exclamation point on that domination of the Eastern Conference going into the conclusion of 2006, taking the the division-leading Belleville Bulls out with relative ease for the second time this season. The first time Mark Packwood backstopped the Rangers' victory, this time it was John Murray and he saved a stellar performance for the Bulls, for his league-leading 5th shutout of the season. Kevin Lalande wasn't really one to be overshadowed, his efforts earned him 2nd star honours and went a long way in preventing the game from becoming a complete blowout. Unlike the Rangers, the Bulls weren't really smarting from the effects of the World Junior Championships, the team is relatively healthy and doesn't have any star power missing overseas, something that the Rangers would love to enjoy in a perfect world.
The good news for the Rangers was the return
of three of their more important stars. Matt Pepe wasn't suspended
for his hitting from behind major, and for the first time in weeks Robert
Bortuzzo was back in the lineup and suddenly some of those hard to eat
up minutes were taken care of. Tsimikalis still spent time on the
point for the power play, but Kelly and Bortuzzo were the mainstays back
on the Rangers' blueline during the man advantage. Up front the Rangers
picked up some good news as well. Top goal scoring threat, Matt Halischuk
returned to the fold, however little was decided on the front where the
Rangers still had four healthy overagers fighting for ice time, only three
can dress during each game. This time it was Jean-Michel Rizk's turn
to sit out while Kevin Henderson played. Neither Victor Oreskovich,
nor Peter Tsimikalis has had to sit during the string of games since adding
the fourth overager. A decision in that regard will have to be made
in the next couple weeks as the trade deadline nears, as does the deadline
where teams must reduce their rosters to only three overagers.
Brian Soso at times this season has been in the exact spot for a perfect shot to make a pretty goal, it was the not the case when he opened the scoring early in the first period. This time Soso was in the right spot and it was the right time, but all he had to do was punch the puck into the vacated side of the goal, simple enough for the former one-dimensional forward, but he's compiled six goals on the season altogether, already topping last season's total. This effort would stand as the game winner, it's not the first time that Soso has tallied a game winner this season either, he had another first period goal stand against the Peterborough Petes. The Bulls did take a trio penalties late in the first period, but the Rangers' powerplay that has lacked in potency lately this season, was unable to capitalize without three of the regular five starters that it usually employs, including pivotman: Justin Azevedo and pointmen: Jakub Kindl and Yannick Weber both whom are representing the Czech Republic and Switzerland respectively overseas.
In the third period the Rangers shone brightest, still nursing a 1-goal lead from early in the first period, the team played as if they were down a pair peppering veteran netminder Kevin Lalande with 20 of their 47 shot total at the end of the night. When Peter Tsimikalis picked up credit for tipping in a Dan Kelly blast that also rocked the side of the post, the 6,100-plus in attendance went nuts and the Bulls were similar to a turtle on its' back. Simply incapable of righting the ship. Nick Spaling then closed the scoring several minutes later, taking a feed from Peter Tsimikalis, the only skater who recorded a multiple point night and as a result was named the game's third star behind the two netminders. With the win, the Rangers improved their record to 7-0 against the OHL's Eastern Division.