“The Hand of Graves” doomed Wayne Gretzky and the New York Rangers against the Mighty Ducks on Wednesday.
Adam Graves, a Ranger left wing, made like Maradona and punched in an apparent goal 30 seconds into the third period. But that only counts in World Cup soccer and, instead of a one-goal lead and some momentum, the goal was washed out by video replay.
Right wing Marty McInnis scored for the Ducks at 6:42 of the final period, center Paul Kariya added an empty-net goal and the Ducks held on for a 3-1 victory before an announced crowd of 15,245 at the Arrowhead Pond.
It was the Ducks’ third consecutive victory and their fourth in the last five games.
Goaltender Guy Hebert stopped 29 of 30 shots, extending his winning streak to four games. Center Steve Rucchin had a hand in each of the Ducks’ goals, scoring the first and assisting on the others.
The end was far different from the beginning, when the Ducks couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. The Ducks were outshot in the first period, 13-7, but certainly were not outplayed.
Matters didn’t improve much in the second period as the Ducks’ parade to the penalty box continued.
Against another team, the Ducks might have paid for their sloppy play. But about all the Ranger power play could do was boost the shots-on-goal advantage.
That might explain why the Rangers went into the game 14th, and last, in the Eastern Conference with a 4-7-5 record.
New York did manage to score by the end of the second period, however. Left wing Niklas Sundstrom converted from the slot on Gretzky’s pass from behind the net for an even-strength goal at 16:34.
By then, the Ducks had scored on Rucchin’s breakaway just as time expired on a penalty to defenseman Pavel Trnka.
Rucchin intercepted right wing Alexei Kovalev’s pass at the blue line, raced ahead of the pack and deposited a backhander behind Ranger goalie Mike Richter for a 1-0 lead at 15:12 of the second.
It was the second of the Ducks’ two shots in the period. The Ducks generated little offense because they seemed to be short-handed so often.
In the end, a penalty cost the Rangers the game just as much as Graves’ punch of the puck. McInnis’ power-play goal at 6:42 of the final period gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead they held until Kariya increased it with his ninth goal of the season in the game’s final minute.
The Rangers buzzed Hebert, but didn’t have much to show for a 23-9 advantage in shots going into the third period. Hebert was sharp again, as he has been since the start of the season, stopping Graves’ shot from the slot late in the first period.
Hebert denied Graves again front point-blank range in the second period, the Rangers’ best scoring chance until Gretzky-to-Sundstrom clicked for the tying goal.
Although the offenses sputtered early, that didn’t mean there was a lack of action. There were crunching checks all over the ice, starting with New York center Todd Harvey’s hit on Kariya in the game’s first two minutes.
Harvey has a reputation for dirty play, but there was nothing wrong with his check on Kariya on the left-wing boards.
Still, under the Ducks’ zero-tolerance rule this season, Harvey paid the price a moment later. Travis Green crashed Harvey into the boards and picked up a roughing penalty for the effort.
Kariya was not above the rough stuff either.
He delivered a sharp elbow to Kovalev’s head at 3:06 of the second period. McInnis then blasted defenseman Peter Popovic off his feet after Kariya’s elbowing penalty expired.
And Gretzky and Kevin Haller renewed their mutual disgust for each other, when Gretzky high-sticked the Duck defenseman in final minute of the second period.
Their dislike for each other dates to several seasons ago. Haller, then with the Hartford Whalers, goaded Gretzky into taking a wild swing at him one night.