MAREK THIS NIGHT ON YOUR CALENDARS
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2023
It’s pretty safe to say that the darkest time any hockey fan can remember was the 2004-05 NHL season. Or perhaps, I should rephrase that. The darkest time that any hockey fan can remember was THE LACK OF A 2004-05 SEASON.
Of course, there was no hockey played in that time when there should have been a season between October 2004 and the spring of 2005. The owners and players could not come to a mutual decision on a collective bargaining agreement in time for the beginning of the season in 2004 and so, there were no games played that year. Eventually, the entire season was cancelled.
It took a while, but eventually, the owners and the union were able to come to an agreement on an CBA. However, the players caved on the issue of a salary cap. In the first season of the ‘salary cap era’, 2005-06, the ceiling was set at $39 million. The salary floor was determined to be $21.5 million. There were a few other ‘new’ rules that would be invoked for that new season.
Starting in ‘05-06, there would be a trapezoid behind the net. That would be the only area behind the goal line in which the goalie could touch or handle the puck. The rule was created to prevent “The Two Marty’s” – Brodeur and Turco – from having a puckhandling advantage over all the other goalies in the league. The league also had goaltenders’ equipment size reduced.
The league made the neutral zone slightly smaller, they eliminated the centre-red line for offside passes, and they reinstituted the ‘tag-up’ rule for offsides. This would be the year that, if a team icedthe puck, they would not be allowed to make any personnel changes. Also, if a player instigated a fight in the last five minutes of a game or in overtime, he would get a minor for instigating, a major for fighting, a ten-minute misconduct penalty and an automatic one-game suspension.
The rule book was also going to be called more strictly than it had been before the lockout, meaning obstruction penalties like hooking, holding, interference and the like would be called a lot more freeing skaters to create plays with a lot more speed and precision than ever before. Indeed, by the end of the season, there were 7,443 goals scored in 1,230 games – the most goals in league history to that point.
The other thing that would be instituted for the 2005-06 season was the elimination of ties after afive-minute overtime period. A shootout would be put in place to decide all games that were not won or lost in the extra time. The shootout would feature three players from each team. If the score was still tied after those three rounds, it would continue one round at a time until a winner could be declared.
You’ll remember that this was the season that both Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin made their NHL debuts. The league made a concerted effort to pull out all the stops when it came to publicizing the high-octane pair. It wasn’t long before Crosby and Ovechkin were the new faces of the National Hockey League as it entered what many called the “post-lockout” era, or even the “salary cap” era.
Ovechkin’s style of play was admired by other players in the league. The Rangers’ Darius Kasparaitis told Andrew Gross, who was writing for the Journal Star of White Plains, N.Y. at the time, “What I like about him is he’s not only talented but he’s physical. He can be mean. He loves hitting. Just ask Sergei Gonchar. He hit him in a game in Russia last year and he was out.”
The Capitals were concerned about the young Ovechkin playing in North America and feeling the need to have another Russian to room with on the road. He was originally set to room with Lithuanian Dainus Zubrus, but Ovechkin went to the team and asked to be put with a player from North America. By the time the Caps visited the Big Apple in late November, his roommate was Brian Willsie, a Canadian.
There was another player who entered the league at the beginning of the ’05-06 season. He would go on to have a long and productive career and would become a mainstay in goal for the team in New York. Henrik Lundqvist joined the New York Rangers from his Swedish club team Vastra Frolunda. He had been chosen 205 th overall in the 2000 NHL draft and he quickly established himself as the Rangers number-one goalie.
The 2005-06 season started on October 5 and because the league’s players would be taking part in the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy in February of 2006, that meant the teams would have to play a somewhat condensed schedule during the rest of the season. There would be quite a few occasions during which teams would have to play three games in four nights.
For the New York Rangers, their October saw them play their first thirteen games over the last 26 nights of the month. In November, they played a stretch of another thirteen matches in 23 nights. On November 26, the Blueshirts were playing in Madison Square Garden and they would be hostingOvechkin and the Capitals.
Going into this game, the Rangers were handily at the top of the Atlantic Division and sat a point behind the Eastern Conference leading Ottawa Senators who had seventeen wins in their first twenty games. New York had a record of 15-7-3 and were 8-2-2 at home. The Capitals were 8-13-2 overall, in fourth place in the Southeast Division. Immediately following this game against the Caps, the Rangers would have four days off before they played again on December 1 against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. And the way they came out in the first period, they played like they were already in a mini-vacation mode. The Caps outshot the home team 17-4 through the first twenty minutes, but Henrik Lundqvist stood tall as his team emerged from that opening frame with a 1-0 lead.
16 minutes and 26 seconds into the game, Darius Kasparaitis took a penalty for holding. Fifty seconds later, the Rangers’ Jason Ward took the puck away from Capitals’ defenseman Bryan Muir and quickly deposited it past Olaf Kolzig for his team’s first shorthanded goal of the year. Then, fourteen seconds into the second frame, with the teams playing four-against-four, Dominic Moore’s shot on Kolzig bounced over to Jed Ortmeyer who slid the rebound into the net to give New York a 2-0 lead.
A little over three minutes after Ortmeyer’s marker, Chris Clark answered for Washington with his sixth goal of the season to bring the visitors back within one. Ovechkin got an assist on that one. Just after the halfway point of that period, the Caps tied it up when Brian Willsie put a puck behind Lundqvist off a rebound from a Matt Pettinger shot.
One other thing happened in the middle of the second period that should be noted. Ovechkin had a possible breakaway stifled by a diving play by Rangers’ defenceman Tom Poti. The sprawling play resulted in a groin strain for Poti. He was gone for the night and his absence possibly would affect things later. The score stayed tied until the buzzer at the end of regulation. Shots on goal after three periods were 35-20 in favour of Washington.
Before the overtime period even started, the Caps demanded a measurement on the stick of Rangers star Jaromir Jagr. His stick was found to be illegal and he had to sit for two minutes. But in that extra frame, the Rangers killed off that penalty and held the play, outshooting the Caps 6-2, imposing their will numerous times on the visitors. But Olaf Kolzig refused to allow his opponents to score and this one was going to go to the dreaded shootout.
Traditional hockey people despised the move to the shootout as the league came out of the lockout. Rangers’ coach Tom Renney was one of those haters. Although he did concede that the new wrinkle did have some entertainment value, “I didn’t see anybody grabbing their car keys, that’s for sure,” Renney told reporters after the game.
The shootout came to be used in weekend tournaments in kids’ minor hockey or mens’ leagues in the 1980s and 1990s and it’s perfectly reasonable, given that these events must be concluded in a given time window. But, I can tell you, as a goalie, teams and players hated to see their possible advancement or elimination in a tournament come down to what many referred to as ‘a skills competition’.
In this first post-lockout season, the visiting teams, by rule, shot first. That would change in subsequent seasons as the home team would be given the choice of shooting first or second. Alex Ovechkin came into this game against the Rangers having scored fifteen goals in his team’s 22 games and he had scored in all four of his shootout tries before this night. He was selected to shoot first for Washington. Lundqvist got the better of the Caps’ sniper though. Martin Straka then shot for New York but missed the net.
Next up for the visitors was former Ottawa 67s standout Andrew Cassels. He scored. Michael Nylander, whose son is a featured member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, evened it up when he scored on Kolzig. The next shooter for Washington was Matt Pettinger. Lundqvist stopped him. Renney chose Jaromir Jagr to try to atone for his stick penalty and finish this game for the Rangers. He was denied by Kolzig. The game would continue.
Jamie Heward had an assist on the first Capitals’ goal and he shot fourth. Lundqvist pulled the Mutombo on Heward saying “no, no, no”. Olaf Kolzig did the same to the Rangers’ Petr Prucha.
Neither Brooks Laich for Washington, nor Jason Ward for the Blueshirts were able to register a shot on goal in their respective attempts in the fifth round. In the sixth round, Brian Willsie, the man who tied the game for the Caps back in the second period, was able to solve Lundqvist. It was up to Ville Nieminen to keep his team alive. He got one by Olie the Goalie and the game was tied once again.
In Round 7, Chris Clark and Marian Hossa both failed to score. Jakub Klepis and Ryan Hollweg were both stopped in the eighth. The same for Jeff Halpern and Dominic Moore in the ninth. Ben Clymer and Blair Betts were both stopped by Lundqvist and Kolzig respectively in the tenth. Steve Eminger and Maxim Kondratiev suffered the same fate in the eleventh. Brian Sutherby and Jed Ortmeyer each missed the net in the twelfth. In the thirteenth, Tomas Fleischmann shot wide while Michal Rozsival was the victim of a Kolzig save.
Bryan Muir was the Capitals’ shooter in the fourteenth round. He scored. Kolzig could now win this match for the visiting team if he stopped Jason Strudwick. Strudwick, normally a defenceman but playing the left wing in this one, was given an ‘A’ before the game when Steve Rucchin couldn’t go for New York because of a back ailment. The converted winger skated toward Kolzig and scored. Like Celine Dion’s heart, this one would go on and on.
In the fifteenth round, it was Matt Bradley’s turn to shoot for Washington. Lundqvist made the save. At this point, there were three skaters left on the Rangers’ bench. There might have been four if Tom Poti hadn’t hurt himself in the second period. But as it was, there were three – Fedor Tyutin, who was still nursing a broken finger, Darius Kasparaitis and Marek Malik. None of these guys would ever be mistaken for anything resembling a goal scorer.
Jagr had shot third in the shootout in what had seemed to be hours ago. He was trying to convince his coach, Renney, to allow Kasparaitis to shoot. That was not anything that the Rangers’ coach was about to consider. And Kasparaitis was happy to hear about that. He wanted no part of that shootout. He told Slapshot Diaries (slapshotdiaries.com) that Renney came up to him after the game and said that the backup goalie would have shot before ‘Kaspar’ would be allowed in there.
With the condition of Tyutin’s finger, Renney’s only remaining choice was Malik.
Malik was an ungainly looking defenceman who stood 6’6” and weighed 238 pounds. He had spent seven years playing in the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes’ organization before going to Vancouver and playing with the Canucks in the 2002-03 season. The following year, he got votes for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenceman. That had been the best year of his hockey career. Then, the lockout came and Malik found himself at a crossroads.
When play resumed in the summer and fall of 2005, Malik was 30 years old and a member of the New York Rangers. He was still a good player and in this game against the Capitals, he was on the ice for almost 22 minutes. As I said earlier, he was not a goal scorer. In fact, he had not yet recorded a goal in the ’05-06 season.
As the shootout went on, round after round, the Madison Square Garden crowd began roiling themselves into a frenzy. By the fifteenth round, they were beside themselves, going back and forth in both anxiety and delirium. When Strudwick scored after the Muir goal, the building erupted. The Rangers were still alive! The Lundqvist save that followed on Bradley brought the same massive ovation.
Now it was Malik’s turn. Listening to John Davidson on the MSG Network, he made it sound like we were watching the last of the peanut butter jar remnants as Malik approached the puck at centre ice. He’s not a noted goal scorer but he’s gonna give it a shot here.” Malik approached the puck with a good pace.
He skated straight toward Kolzig in the Washington net. As he got close to the Caps’ goalie, he made it look like he was going to go to his right, but he drew the puck back between his giraffe-like legs and his stick followed the puck. Kolzig followed the big man toward the corner. But Malik’s stick blade was on the puck and he roofed it, almost knocking the water bottle off the top of the net.
Pandemonium reigned at MSG. Malik skated along the boards in front of the Washington bench slightly bemused, a single arm in the air as he looked toward his teammates who had begun to stream on to the ice.
The announcers were screaming. The crowd was screaming. The Rangers’ players were screaming. One man looked around and saw what was happening and he took in all of what he was seeing. It was Darius Kasparaitis.
“We were so excited that we had won the game. The fans were going absolutely crazy. I came up to Jags as we were celebrating and said we should go to the middle of the rink and salute the fans and say thank you. We do a similar thing in Europe, only not always at centre ice. Jags agreed and we did it. The crowd went nuts, so we kept on doing it after home wins. In that moment, our accomplishments are recognized as a team. The fans loved it because we appreciated their part in our victory. It makes me very proud that we, the Rangers, did it first.”
After the game, reporters flocked to Malik’s locker. Whatever made him even think of trying such an outlandish manoeuvre? “Everybody before me tried everything possible, so I said, ‘Why not?’ I was in the position where I didn’t have to score.”
Jaromir Jagr failed to score back in the third round of the shootout. But he was giddy after what he had seen Malik do at the end the game. He was also somewhat nonplussed. “If you miss it, you’ve got to go like this.” And with that, he covered his face with both hands.
Tom Renney, with his disdain for the shootout, was pragmatic….as a coach should be. “Henrik Lundqvist won this game for us. This was not a masterpiece by the New York Rangers at all. This was brutal in a lot of ways.”
But they did win. And they went into their four-day break having won five straight games. They were nine games above .500 for the first time since 2001 and they had kept pace with the Ottawa Senators. The Rangers had 35 points and were a point behind the Sens in the very early race for the President’s Trophy. They would finish with 100 points, third in the division behind the New Jersey Devils. The Devils swept the Rangers in the first round. Carolina then defeated the Devils and went on to win the Stanley Cup over the Edmonton Oilers.
The night he scored the shootout winning goal against the Caps was the greatest night in Marek Malik’s time as a New York Ranger. On January 24, 2008, the team retired Brian Leetch’s number 2 and there was joy and handshakes all around. Then the team went out and beat Atlanta 2-1 in a shootout. But all was not well.
Malik was scratched from that extra time win. According to the New York Post, the reason he had to sit was because he refused to shake the hand of coach Tom Renney two nights before when the Rangers had blanked the Thrashers 4-0. That refusal stemmed from a scratching back on January 5 in Edmonton. Malik had been trying to understand why he had been sitting here and there and wasn’t happy about it. He played a total of 42 games that year, his lowest game total since playing just 7 games back in 1995-96.
The next year, 2008-09, he played 42 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was 33 years old. At the end of that season, he was done as a National Hockey League player.
If you mention Marek Malik’s name to anyone today, the thing they will bring up will unquestionably be that night at Madison Square Garden in November of 2005. The look on his face after his shootout goal is etched indelibly into the minds of so many hockey fans. The ecstasy of the MSG fans that night and the team’s reaction will never be forgotten.
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