Game #16 – Devils 4, Penguins 2

After a disasterous 1-6 road trip (with a whopping 34 goals allowed, I might add!) dropped the Devils under .500, I can’t say I was feeling too confident in any type of bounceback while making my trek to the Rock last night.  Even if we were facing the rival Pens, who we managed our lone road win against in a desultory game for them last week.  Along with the Devils playing poorly, they also had to deal with a couple of injuries to the center position – Nico Hischier being day-to-day with a wrist issue while Brian Boyle got put on IR after running into the machine known as Dustin Byfuglien in Winnipeg.  Two of our top four centers being out neccesitated a quick recall of Pavel Zacha, who – while he’d been reportedly been playing better in Binghamton – still hasn’t scored a goal at either level this year.

Given this backdrop, Travis Zajac’s quick goal less than thirty seconds into the game was more of a welcome surprise for me than anything else, and maybe a bit of a panacea for the team who played some of their best hockey of the season the first twelve-fifteen minutes of the first period.  Of course I didn’t think this was going to be as easy as the game in Pittsburgh and sure enough, all it took was the Penguin power play showing off its skill to even the match, with Sidney Crosby threading the needle with a pass through Andy Greene’s legs that was deflected home by Phil Kessel (with an assist from defenseman Ben Lovejoy).  Crosby and Kessel were to prove pivotal in both that goal, and seperate contreversial events still to come.

With the game tied, momentum swung back Pittsburgh’s way, but Keith Kinkaid held the fort down again the way he did during last season’s stretch drive until the MVP started to make his presence felt.  Taylor Hall already had the primary assist on Zajac’s goal, but his pass to a wide open Damon Severson on the Devils’ second goal was more of a classic ‘assist’, and after Severson ripped the puck home you should see Hall’s excitement for the defenseman getting his third of the season.  Compare and contrast that goal reaction with the ho-hum businesslike approach of Zajac’s goal in Toronto!

After re-taking the lead the Devils played better though not quite as dominantly as in the first, and were fortunate after they gave up a shorthanded two-on-one when Kinkaid made a tremendous double save on Bryan Rust, sweeping his glove back after the initial save to keep the puck from trickling over the line.  For their part the Devils could have extended the lead but Miles Wood could not corral the puck when all alone in front of Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith, and was likely distracted by the goaltender’s poke-check attempt.  They really should have extended the lead in the final two minutes of the period when an unfortunate series of events confused the heck out of seemingly everyone in the arena, especially me.

All I really saw was Will Butcher’s tremendous stretch pass finding an open Jesper Bratt who stayed onside according to the near official, and beat DeSmith for a breakaway goal.  Well okay I did see Kessel jumping Brett Seney behind the play but figured they at least let us play advantage the way they do in soccer.  I did not hear the stupid quick whistle that replays showed went off as Butcher’s pass was finding its mark.  Clearly nobody on the ice heard the whistle from the far side of the ice and with the crowd buzzing during Bratt’s breakaway chance some of us in the stands didn’t either.  I didn’t even notice the officials waving off the goal and was celebrating as the PA guy ran the entire goal song.  A nice Penguins fan sitting next to me quietly pointed out they disallowed the goal and I was incredulous.

Honestly it took a few minutes for both of us to catch up to what the hell happened.  He thought it might have been an offside, then I thought they were dinging us for a penalty.  Technically there was a penalty on Seney (how?!  He got jumped!) and having simaltenous penalties stopped the play, but since Kessel committed a double minor we actually got what turned out to be a meaningless power play out of the bargain.  Yet even the more aware Penguin fan next to me didn’t realize it was a Devils power play and thought there were too many men on the ice for a faceoff towards the end of it.  Strange sequence.  Perhaps even diabolical too, it seems unfair that Kessel could jump Seney and because the player was defending himself it canceled out a legitimate breakaway chance.

Or maybe the refs were just looking for an excuse to cut the NHL’s golden team a break.  It sure looked that way in the third period after another contreversial goal decision went the Penguins’ way.  This time it was on a play where (who else?) Crosby that gained a step on Blake Coleman and drove to the net.  Crosby’s initial shot was stopped but he lost control and took out Kinkaid with a slide, leaving the goalie defenseless to stop Jake Guentzel’s rebound putback.  Honestly I thought that was just an unfortunate break before seeing the replay, but Crosby made no attempt to stop and lost his footing.  At the very least the goal should have been ruled out for incidential contact but NOOOOO…this is the NHL and this is the Penguins.

Toronto and the refs’ excuse was that Coleman shoved Crosby, causing the contact.  Horsecrap…yes he did shove Crosby before the shot (basically with the force that a first-grader shoving anyone would provide) but that had absolutely nothing to do with him falling down or losing control.  Again it was just a convenient excuse to play favorites.  Even the nice Penguins fan next to me knew that was horsecrap and should have been disallowed.  Mine and the rest of the crowd’s sense of injustice was now keyed up, although in my case it manifested in sarcastic laughing more than actual anger.  I’ve seen this movie before, after all.

Now tied 2-2 where it should have been 3-1 Devils, the team at least showed a sense of resolve it hadn’t for much of the season, and it was the mighty Hall who gave the Devils back their lead on a breakaway goal just four minutes later.  Even the Devils’ Facebook feed was trolling the refs with their post showing the Hall goal.

When sometimes it looks like it’s #NJDvsEverbody, don’t get mad or get even.  Get the lead.

#NJDvsEverybody indeed.  I almost lost it late in the game when in the final two minutes Patrik Hornqvist was crying for a delay of game on Joey Anderson, and I probably wasn’t the only one thinking or saying ‘you’ve gotten enough breaks tonight ****head, be quiet’.  At least I had a more reasonable Penguins fan next to me than my friend sitting a few rows in front, whose fiancee is a Penguins fan (while she’s obviously a Devils fan).  While a nice guy in normal settings evidently he fits the stereotype of a spoiled Pens fan during games whose team can do nothing wrong.  Which I’m sure makes for an interesting dynamic during these Devil-Penguin games.

Thankfully for one night it had a 2017-18 feel at the Rock again, and it wasn’t the refs or the Penguins who’d have the last word – it was the Devils themselves, who after several anxious minutes finally sealed up the game with a Hall empty-netter in a finish befitting the pregame commemoration of the franchise’s greatest (Martin Brodeur) being inducted into the Hall of Fame last night.  Marty gave a short, but emotional speech on Monday that made Dick Vermeil look emotionally restrained.  Oh I kid cause I love.  No speech last night, but instead a spotlight at center ice before an honorary pre-game faceoff with Crosby, who got the predictable boos raining down from the skies.

Overall a fun night, and my own record at home is surprisingly 3-0 this season (the Devils themselves are 6-1-1 at home, though that includes the overseas game and 1-7 on the road).  Hopefully last night’s game and the emotional way the team won it serves as a springboard to start turning things around.

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Game #18: The kids get it done in deserved 2-1 Rangers win over Canucks

The kids are alright. A classic Beatles song is the perfect way to describe a Rangers 2-1 win over the Canucks at MSG. On a emotional night the organization paid tribute to all the men and women who served on Veteran’s Day, the team persevered to earn a hard fought one-goal victory on home ice.

In improving to 9-7-2, the rebuilding Rangers find themselves in second place in the Metropolitan Division. They have done it with good effort and sticking with it. There were some ugly moments in the game with the Canucks taking advantage of a mistake to take the lead. They nearly doubled it on another turnover, but Michael Del Zotto had his goal over turned due to his shot ringing off both goalposts and staying out. That kind of sums up his career.

Credit must be given to Cody McLeod, who fought Darren Archibald following Nikolay Goldobin’s first goal since opening night for Vancouver. McLeod not only won the fight, but had a strong message for his teammates. He yelled at them to wake up and said, “Let’s get going!” That kinda stuff is important to a young team when they’re struggling during a course of a game. They were flat to start the second period and needed a wake-up call.

Sometimes, luck helps. I thought for sure Del Zotto had scored on a good set up. But he hadn’t. That as much as anything helped the Blueshirts turn it around.

There was another key adjustment by the rookie coach that had an impact. Entering the match, David Quinn started rookie Filip Chytil on the fourth line. Ryan Spooner was on the top line and power play. That didn’t sit well with anyone who’s seen Spooner baffle with inconsistent play. Quinn didn’t wait around for Spooner to wake up. Instead, he made the change we all had been calling for. With Mats Zuccarello missing a third consecutive game with a groin issue, up went Chytil to the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Vladislav Namestnikov. Down went Spooner to the fourth line with McLeod and Vinni Lettieri.

Chytil had been the best forward all night. He made things happen, nearly scoring his first goal earlier on a great chance. He also set up a good scoring chance with a nice pass. It was obvious that the 19-year old Czech was hungry for the puck. Finally, on the power play, he made it happen when he pounced on a Neal Pionk rebound to score his first of the season at 12:42 to tie the game. It was well deserved. Chris Kreider and Pionk drew the assists. Kreider screened Jacob Markstrom and Pionk picked up his sixth power play assist.

It definitely turned the tide. The team played with more energy to outshoot the Canucks 10-7 in the second. A period that had lots of action and plenty of grit. There also were a few penalties including a bad one from Zibanejad. But a penalty to Markus Granlund 13 seconds later offset it. He was also called for one later with the team clinging to a one-goal lead. It was a bad call with Jake Virtanen embellishing it to give the Canucks one last chance. Something Steve Valiquette alluded to in the postgame.

In between viewing the Hockey Hall of Fame class on NHL Network with some great speeches from all the inductees including Marty St. Louis, Willie O’Ree and later an emotional and nervous Martin Brodeur, I caught the highlights of two big saves. Markstrom denied a Kreider bid on a break, and Henrik Lundqvist stoned lethal Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson from the right circle. Petterson may have been kept off the score sheet, but man is he fun to watch. Remarkably, he was at the top of the Rangers’ list in the 2017 NHL Draft with Lias Andersson second. If only he had slipped two more spots. No disrespect to Andersson, who looks like he’ll be a good one, working his tail off.

The defenses were stingy in the third. There wasn’t a lot of room. Credit to both teams for tightening up. As it turned out, the game-winner came from another young player with under nine minutes left.

Brett Howden has been nothing short of brilliant in his rookie season. While not as gifted as Pettersson, the do everything center does so many things well. Quinn and the coaching staff fully trust him to play in any type of situation. Off some hard work from his line, he took a Jimmy Vesey pass and surprised Markstrom with a quick one-timer for his fourth goal to give the Rangers the lead with 8:41 remaining.

Following a abysmal hooking call on Zibanejad with 1:15 left, the Rangers penalty kill got the job done. That included some strong work from Jesper Fast and Marc Staal to get a couple of crucial clears. The four skaters were very disciplined at the end, keeping Vancouver to the outside. Finally, Pettersson gave himself enough room to shoot low into Lundqvist, who also turned aside Bo Horvat on a rebound as time expired.

For Lundqvist, it was a fitting way to tie Jacques Plante in wins (437) for seventh on the NHL all-time list. He finished with 25 saves including stopping all 11 Vancouver shots in the third to preserve the win.

Three Rangers Stars 🌟

3rd 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist 25 saves including 11 of 11 in 3rd to tie Plante for seventh all-time in wins (437), 6-6-2 with a 2.54 GAA and .923 save percentage this season

2nd 🌟 Brett Howden 4th goal of season, game-winner with 8:41 left, +1 in 23 shifts (16:59) including 13:41 even strength, 2:20 power play and 58 seconds shorthanded

1st 🌟 Filip Chytil 1st goal of season on power play, game high 6 shots, 2 takeaways, Even Rating in 18 shifts (14:08) including 11:27 even strength and 2:41 power play

I guess Sam Darnold wanted to see what it’s like to have a good coach in a young rebuild.

Lundqvist climbing the list.

The Rangers rocked camouflage jerseys during warmups in a special Salute to The Troops.

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Buchnevich out four to six weeks with broken thumb

When the Rangers skate against the Canucks at the top of the hour, they’ll do so without Pavel Buchnevich. As was feared, he suffered a serious injury to his hand in the shootout win at Columbus. Seen gripping his hand late in regulation, the 23-year old Russian right wing didn’t take a shift in overtime.

I knew what that meant. As it turns out, Buchnevich suffered a broken thumb. He is expected to miss between four to six weeks. It’s too bad because he had just started to get it. Following a benching, he had played much better putting up two goals and two assists in the last three games.

That included a goal and primary helper on Saturday. David Quinn wanted Buchnevich to be more aggressive. He had been playing a game more physical and gritty game to go with his skill. Now, we won’t see him for at least a month. He’s 5-4-9 in 14 games for the season.

He had regained his job on the top line with Zibanejad and improving Russian Vladislav Namestnikov. At least for tonight, the overly disappointing Ryan Spooner gets the first chance over Filip Chytil, who remains buried on the fourth line centering Cody McLeod and Vinni Lettieri. I don’t get it. Spooner has stunk. Chytil actually has played better despite minimal minutes.

Hopefully, Quinn comes to his senses. Lias Andersson stays with Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider on the second line. Brett Howden is with Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast. He didn’t change much.

The Blueshirts will definitely feel the loss of Buchnevich. Hopefully, he heals quickly and comes back the same improved player.

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Game #15 – Jets 5, Devils 2

I posted the highlights of this game but that’s only about as much as I watched, specifically the latter part of the first period of our latest expected beatdown.  I opted to watch the political program The Circus during the second period, so by the time I picked the game back up it was already over with the Devils down 5-2 in the second intermission.  Again not an unexpected result considering the Jets are much better, considering hapless Cory Schneider was in net and considering this team has shown about as much interest in playing as the football Jets did yesterday afternoon in their own meltdown.  That’s the way it’s going in sports for me lately…a heartless Devils team, a brainless Jets team and a clueless Mets team.  To top off yesterday’s latest fiasco super soph Nico Hischier – who’s played every game as a Devil to this point – left due to a wrist injury, and his status for the four games in six days this week is unknown.  It’s weeks like this where I think maybe I’m just better off not knowing anything about sports.

So instead of talking about this game or this team, I’d rather think about the past, which through 2012 was mostly good for two decades as a Devils fan in large part thanks to HOF goalie Martin Brodeur – who’ll be inducted tonight along with other distinguished figures like racial pioneer Willie O’Ree and mighty mite Martin St. Louis.  For one of the few times I’ll bother to turn on the NHL Network to watch the HOF induction ceremonies, although I’ll be sure to skip the speech of one Gary Bettman, also going in the HOF in this class.  At least he won’t get booed tonight, unless the other dignitaries want to humor the commissioner used to boos from hockey fans.  To be fair, nobody’s influenced the league more profoundly during that period with both expansion into different markets and the labor wars which have led to three lockouts but also a much fairer economic system for a sport that couldn’t stand up to baseball FA-type bidding wars.

Still I’d rather not think about Bettman going into the HOF, especially given his checkered past toward our franchise with some of his comments seemingly wanting the team to move in 1995, and the draconian punishment for the overturned Ilya Kovalchuk contract in 2010.  Tonight for Devil fans everywhere should be about Marty with a nod to the other greats like fellow Marty, who played most of his career with Tampa Bay and remarked about being 0-2 in the playoffs against Brodeur (we beat the Lightning in the 2003 and 2007 postseasons).  Reminded that he too won a Cup, he pointed out they didn’t have to go through the Devils that year – we lost in the first round in 2004 when they had their Cup run.

Truthfully there are no shortage of accolades for arguably the greatest goalie of all time.  If you go by the numbers it’s really no contest, where Brodeur clearly stood out was his durability.  He played 70 or more games in twelve different seasons and 67 in another, only missing major time due to injury in 2008-09 when elbow surgery kept him out for four months of that season.  Marty’s otherworldly win and shutout totals were only made possible by the fact he could go to the post like no other goalie and few other players.  I doubt I’ll ever see another goalie play 1,266 games in my lifetime (and that doesn’t even include his 205 playoff contests), especially when fewer and fewer goalies are even allowed to play 70+ games in a season.  Including playoffs Marty frequently played 80-100 games in a season total.

That’s the kind of durability it took to post 804 career wins combined between regular season and playoffs, 149 shutouts (24 of them in the postseason) – and be a backstop for a dominant team from the mid ’90’s to the early ’10’s under multiple coaches, and surrounded by countless teammates.  It’s honestly amazing more goalies haven’t tried to copy Marty’s hybrid style of switching between stand-up and butterfly since the butterfly’s harder on a goaltender physically but also more effective in many cases to stopping the puck.   Perhaps it takes a goalie with Marty’s intelligence to effectively play that hybrid style though…one of a kind, indeed.  Not to mention his legendary puckhandling which resulted in no fewer than three goals scored and a contreversial rule change inhibiting goalies from playing the puck outside the dreaded trapezoid.  I actually kind of thought the NHL would lift the trapezoid once Marty retired, but guess it’s here to stay.

I could bother to cite my favorite Marty memories but it feels like we’ve already been down this road during his jersey retirement and number retirement and I’ve hijacked a ‘recap’ enough as it is.  Going back to the present, the Devils will honor their newest HOF’er (and their newest employee since he returned to the organization this offseason) before tomorrow’s home game against the Penguins.  Maybe, just maybe the Devils will find it in themselves to do what they have rarely done over the last few weeks and show up with a performance worthy of the greatest.  If not it’ll be the clearest symbol yet that the past is dead and buried, unfortunately.

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Game #17: Vesey and Buchnevich star in wild 5-4 shootout win over Blue Jackets

Not every win is going to be a Picasso or Renoir. That’s precisely how to describe a wild 5-4 Rangers’ shootout win over the Blue Jackets at a loud Nationwide Arena. Twenty-four hours after losing in tough fashion to the Red Wings, they found a way to get two points against a good Columbus team.

Even after Chris Kreider put the Rangers up 3-1, which followed up a Pavel Buchnevich goal from Jimmy Vesey, it was far from over. Not by a long shot. They got careless. On a good shift down low against the Kevin Hayes unit, Pierre-Luc Dubois was able to tip in a wide Seth Jones point shot for his seventh to cut the deficit to one.

Thirty-two seconds later, a turnover from the top line inside the Columbus zone led directly to Nick Foligno finishing off a Boone Jenner feed in front to tie the game. There was nothing Alexandar Georgiev could do on either goal. He played a lot better than the four goals he gave up, finishing with 34 saves. That included some timely ones when his team fell behind and in the third period, after a huge Vesey goal off a gorgeous Hayes set up tied it before the conclusion of the second.

Before a crazy period that saw the Metropolitan Division rivals combine for five goals on 21 shots, it was the Rangers who had played a good road period in the first. They got the game’s first goal on a great Buchnevich pass for a Mika Zibanejad tap in past Columbus backup Joonas Korpisalo at 5:54. The play was made possible by Vladislav Namestnikov, who absorbed a heavy hit from David Savard to move the puck to Buchnevich for a two-on-one. Buchnevich basically did the rest with a terrific toe drag to go around a sliding Blue Jacket defenseman and get the pass across for an easy Zibanejad goal. His seventh of the season coming from Buchnevich and Namestnikov, whose play has gotten markedly better since coach David Quinn benched him.

A similar theme is developing with Buchnevich, who’s come back a much improved player. The 23-year old Russian isn’t just relying on his talent. He’s competimg much harder and playing more determined to earn his place on the first line. He had one of his best games, recording his fifth goal and the primary assist on Zibanejad’s tally. Since returning to the lineup, he has two goals and two helpers with seven shots in four games. He’s more consistent five-on-five and continuing to be aggressive, which is exactly what Quinn wants.

In the match up of backups, things started okay. The Rangers got the quick start they wanted on Zibanejad’s goal. Quinn went mostly with the Hayes line against the dangerous threesome of Dubois, Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson. The tandem of Marc Staal and Neal Pionk saw some time against them along with Brady Skjei and the emerging Tony DeAngelo, who had a very good night.

Rookie Lias Andersson, who moved up to play with Hayes and Kreider, got nabbed for a phantom tripping minor late in the first. The penalty kill couldn’t pick the kid up. Instead, they got pinned in by a good Columbus power play that worked the puck around. Jesper Fast failed to clear the zone. That eventually led to Dubois finding the seam with a perfect pass in front to Atkinson for a tap in with Staal unable to stop him. That tied the score with 34 seconds left.

Things really opened up in the second. The teams traded chances off the rush in transition. A mistake by Atkinson resulted in the Rangers’ second goal. After two good defensive plays by DeAngelo, Atkinson tried a back pass that didn’t work. That allowed Vesey and Buchnevich to come two-on-one in the opposite direction. Vesey made a great pass across to Buchnevich, who one-timed the puck past Korpisalo for a 2-1 lead at 6:57.

Less than two minutes later, DeAngelo made a good play to Hayes, who skated down low before sending a great pass across to an open Kreider for his team-leading eighth for a 3-1 lead at 8:30. Before they could relax, Columbus came alive and struck for two consecutive goals in a 32-second span.

On the first, Panarin fed an open Jones at the right point for a shot that Dubois deflected home at 11:49 to make it a one goal contest. Hayes was too late to stop Dubois, who was in the right place at the right time. The second was a turnover by the Zibanejad line to Markus Nutivaara, who started a Columbus transition to Jenner. Jenner made a good pass in front for Foligno, who flipped a forehand past Georgiev to tie it up.

Quinn had seen enough, calling a timeout. Out of it, the Rangers allowed a shorthanded goal to Alex Wennberg. Pionk made a brutal read. He waited too long with Kreider open. By the time he passed the puck, Jones had intercepted it and broke in with Wennberg for a two-on-one. He led Wennberg in and the center beat Georgiev with a good wrist shot to give the Blue Jackets their first lead with 3:57 remaining.

But following the Columbus penalty kill, Kevin Shattenkirk kept a play alive by passing for Hayes. He then flew down low and centered for a Vesey finish in front for his sixth to tie the score at four with 53 seconds left. It was a huge goal that allowed the Rangers to get a point.

They didn’t have much left in the tank. The third was mostly Blue Jackets. They outshot the Blueshirts 11-2. There were two sustained shifts where they could’ve scored. On one, Georgiev made three straight saves including padding away two rebounds due to good positioning. That sequence is the one that stood out. He bailed the team out in the clutch.

A DeAngelo clean hit on Riley Nash resulted in Nash taking exception after he was knocked down behind the Rangers net. He went back at DeAngelo knocking him down. DeAngelo didn’t take kindly to it, opting to challenge Nash to a fight. Nash accepted. It was an entertaining scrap. DeAngelo landed early and Nash came back late. Both went to the box for five minutes. That meant the Rangers lost their best defenseman for five minutes because that’s how well DeAngelo played.

Fredrik Claesson and Shattenkirk had a couple of key defensive shifts before DeAngelo returned. That included one against the Panarin line. Claesson was solid in his return after missing nine games. He logged over 17 minutes with a big block and a plus-one. Better than Brendan Smith, who was a healthy scratch.

If there was a sore spot, Filip Chytil didn’t play enough yet again. He was fine in his shifts with Cody McLeod and Ryan Spooner on a mismatched fourth line. Both Chytil and McLeod played slightly over eight minutes while Spooner got an extra four for whatever reason. He even took a shift in overtime. Partially due to Buchnevich suffering a hand injury late in regulation. Hopefully, that’s not serious. As for Chytil, he needs to play more. If Mats Zuccarello returns Monday against Vancouver, would the organization consider sending him to Hartford for regular ice-time?

In the three-on-three overtime, the Blue Jackets were far more dangerous. Especially Panarin and Atkinson, who Georgiev robbed when his team trailed by one prior to the Vesey goal. He also denied Panarin twice in OT with him just getting a piece of a backhand deke, which I thought was in. That’s how well Georgie played.

The shootout went five rounds. In the first round, Atkinson (forehand deke) and Zibanejad (forehand top shelf) exchanged goals. The second round was just as fun with Georgiev closing up the five-hole on Panarin, followed by Shattenkirk, who went forehand stick side. But Dubois extended it with a good forehand short side top. Spooner, Anthony Duclair, Hayes and Oliver Bjorkstrand all failed. In the bottom half of the fifth, Vesey was able to sneak a high shot off Korpisalo’s glove and in for the winner, causing a tantrum. That was amusing.

The Rangers improved to 8-7-2 with 18 points. Four of the wins have come via the shootout where they’re four-on-four. They have only four wins in regulation and overtime (ROW). It doesn’t matter. They’re finding ways to win games. They’re actually sitting third in the wildcard. Some teams that have higher expectations would trade places right now.

Three Rangers Stars 🌟

3rd 🌟 Kevin Hayes 2 primary assists on the Kreider and Vesey goals, 10-and-6 on face offs, +1 in 21:10 including 2:42 power play and 1:28 shorthanded

2nd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich goal (5th), primary assist on Zibanejad goal, 2 shots and Even Rating in 15:41

1st 🌟 Jimmy Vesey tying goal at 19:07 of second (6th), assist on Buchnevich goal, +2 in 18:28 with the shootout winner

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Claesson replaces Smith in lineup tonight

When the Rangers take on the first place Blue Jackets tonight in Columbus, they’ll do so with a couple of notable lineup changes. One was anticipated while the other is not too surprising even if I don’t necessarily agree.

Both teams are playing the second of a back-to-back. What that means for the Blueshirts is Alexandar Georgiev gets the start, giving Henrik Lundqvist a rare day off. He can use it after how last night concluded in Detroit. Plus the team is back home in a couple of days for the improved Canucks, who are led by amazing rookie Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat. That won’t be easy.

Neither should the Blue Jackets in half an hour. John Tortorella’s club is finally starting to play well. Sergei Bobrovsky has rounded into form following an uneven start. He won’t be in net. It’ll be backup Joonas Korpisalo. He isn’t Bobrovsky. So, that gives them a better chance.

Let’s get to the other lineup changes by coach David Quinn. As expected, Brendan Smith comes out on the blueline. He’s really struggled lately after a good start. The big mistake he made that resulted in Detroit’s first goal by Justin Abdelkader early in the third period stands out. It gave the Red Wings momentum for their comeback win in overtime.

Taking his place is Fredrik Claesson. He’s finally off the injured list and healthy. He deserves to play. Before he got hurt, he had nothing wrong. A steady defensive defenseman, he is a decent skater who has been fine when given the chance. Here’s another one with Smith scratched.

The other move is Cody McLeod back in over Vinni Lettieri. Eh. Lettieri did nothing wrong on the little used fourth line with kids Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil. I would like to see more of that trio. But Quinn has other ideas, deciding to move Andersson up on the wing to the Kevin Hayes line with Chris Kreider. Ryan Spooner will drop down to the fourth line with Chytil and McLeod.

I don’t know. I’m just not seeing it. Spooner is a top nine forward if he’s gonna play. May as well have benched him and kept Lettieri in. Chytil needs to play more. He can’t be stapled to the bench in the third period. It’s not good for his development. Unless they use him on the second power play unit, what chance does he have? I like that Quinn continues to play him, but wish he could be higher on the depth chart. He still is only 19. They’re remaining patient with him.

For Columbus, Cam Atkinson is back in the lineup after missing Friday’s 2-1 win over Washington due to illness. That means he’s back on the dangerous top line with Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois. They should be a handful. Who draws the assignment? Brady Skjei and Tony DeAngelo, or Marc Staal and Neal Pionk. Probably the top pair because they don’t get pinned in as much.

Does Quinn match the top line of Mika Zibanejad, Vladislav Namestnikov and Pavel Buchnevich against them? Or is it gonna be the Hayes line with Kreider and Andersson? I’m thinking they put Andersson with those two because he battles hard and is better defensively than Spooner. Hayes has been on a good roll lately. So has Kreider. We’ll see.

Brett Howden sticks with Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast. It would be nice to see Fast score a goal. He’s been stuck on one since getting his only tally on Opening Night. The first goal the team scored.

Keep an eye on Anthony Duclair. He’s up to seven goals on his fourth team. He got the winner last night. Four of his seven tallies have come on the power play. He finally looks to be finding a home with Columbus. Duclair now goes to the net and finds garage goals. He is on the third line with Alex Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The Blue Jackets have one of the best defensemen in the game in Seth Jones. He won’t be paired with Zach Werenski. Instead, it’ll be Ryan Murray. Werenski is with Scott Harrington on the third pair.

Columbus isn’t only reliant on the top line. They have some heavy players who can create offense off the forecheck. The second line featuring Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and Josh Anderson (seven goals) can get it done. So can Brandon Dubinsky. Though not the player he once was due to injuries, he’s a tough match up centering the fourth line. Riley Nash is also a hard worker.

The Jackets won’t blow you away. But they have lots of balance throughout the lineup. That’s why they come in 9-6-1 with 19 points.

It’ll be a good challenge for the Rangers. Let’s see how they respond.

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Game #16: “We Wilted” Quinn fumes on bad 3-2 overtime loss to Red Wings

There really isn’t much to say following that awful third period and overtime display. I don’t care if the second Detroit goal was offside as someone showed on Twitter. There is no excuse for how poorly the Rangers played with a two-goal lead entering the third. They beat themselves in a frustrating 3-2 overtime loss to the more deserving Red Wings, who earned the two points on home ice.

The four-game win streak is over. Detroit made sure of that by playing a scrappy third in which they took it to a listless Rangers, outscoring them 2-0 on goals from Justin Abdelkader and Andreas Athanasiou to force extras. The careless play continued until the waning seconds when a turnover and blown coverage by Mika Zibanejad allowed Athanasiou to get his pass through for his team’s best player, Dylan Larkin’s OT winner that came with over five seconds remaining.

I have no complaint with the Red Wings winning the game. They worked their butts off and took it away from the Rangers, who drew the ire and fire of coach David Quinn afterwards. He didn’t mince words in the postgame while answering MSG reporter John Giannone’s questions. “We wilted,” he told Giannone about his team not handling prosperity well again on the road. “We cheated the game.”

Asked to elaborate further, Quinn did by citing the 50/50 battles they cheated on, and not getting pucks deep. They didn’t compete enough to close out what could’ve been a fifth straight win. Instead, they were incomplete which lead to their defeat. So, rather than enter a tough back-to-back at noisy Columbus with five wins in a row, they’ll look to respond to Quinn’s valid criticism. The Blue Jackets also played tonight in Washington, coming away with a 2-1 win on former Blueshirt Anthony Duclair’s seventh goal. Remember him? He seems to have found a home under John Tortorella with his fourth NHL team.

When you don’t play smart and try to take shortcuts, it usually comes back to bite you. The Rangers have no one to blame but themselves. It’s a bitter defeat, which is how a frustrated Henrik Lundqvist described it in the locker room. He had to make too many big saves in the third and OT after not seeing much action most of the first two periods. He couldn’t prevent Larkin’s lay-up from Athanasiou at 4:54 with Zibanejad late, and Kevin Shattenkirk unable to stop the pass. Predictably, Lundqvist slammed his goalstick on the net and skated off with the rest of his disappointed teammates at Little Caesars Arena.

Even though they largely controlled the first with tons of puck possession in the Detroit zone and got 11 of the game’s first 17 shots, they were unable to beat Jimmy Howard. The veteran American netminder always saves his best for the Rangers and Lundqvist. Historically, the games between the two have been lowscoring and ultimately decided by one goal. This was no different. For a while, it looked like Howard would turn in another Vezina caliber performance and shutout the Rangers. But Kevin Hayes drew a double minor for high-sticking following a great backcheck on the opposite end.

The Rangers haven’t had a lot of success on the man-advantage. However, they managed just fine scoring power play goals on both halves to take a 2-0 lead to the locker room. First, Shattenkirk actually did something other than score in the shootout. He scored his first goal of the season when Hayes and Tony DeAngelo combined to set him up for a good shot through a Jimmy Vesey screen past Howard for a 1-0 lead at 17:53. It was his first goal since last November.

Forty seconds later, Neal Pionk continued his good run by scoring for a third consecutive game. Following a Pavel Buchnevich cross ice pass, Zibanejad skated down to draw a couple of defenders. This created enough space to pass back to Pionk up top. Pionk wisely skated to the middle before firing a good low shot that deflected off Darren Helm and by Howard with both Vladislav Namestnikov and Chris Kreider screening. His third of the season came with 1:27 left.

It’s worth noting that despite some good offensive play in the second prior to the pair of power play goals, the Red Wings were starting to come on. The Rangers got sloppy defensively, giving Detroit too much room. That resulted in some dangerous chances against. Lundqvist came up with some dandies. Shots in the period were 12-12.

The turning point came early in the third. Zibanejad got a break on Howard, but the Detroit goalie stoned him to give his team a chance at the comeback. And come back they did. They can thank Brendan Smith for changing the momentum. After playing a puck behind his net, he waited too long, allowing
Gustav Nyquist to strip him and feed a wide open Justin Abdelkader for a tap in that cut it to one at 1:46.

There weren’t many Blueshirts who played the game the right way in what amounted to a dismal period in which they were outskated and outworked. Hayes was the best player, playing well during each of his shifts on both defense and offense. He’s taken his game to a different level this season. Although the production is still not there, he’s quietly picked it up in that department. His assist on the first goal gives him four points (all helpers) in the last two games entering tonight’s match at Columbus. Six (1-5-6) of his nine points have come over the past four. Hayes led all skaters with seven shots on goal. He came to play.

This isn’t to say other players didn’t. Buchnevich had another active game with an assist while creating some chances. Namestnikov was decent too. The kid line of Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Vinni Lettieri worked hard during their shifts. They didn’t play enough, which Quinn acknowledged. Lettieri replaced Cody McLeod, who got the night off. Brett Howden returned after missing one game. He was reunited with Jesper Fast and Vesey. Mats Zuccarello is out for the road trip with a groin injury.

For some reason, they didn’t play through way needed to in the third. Even following a good offensive shift from the top line of Zibanejad, Buchnevich and Namestnikov, they were too soft. It was eerily similar to the Kings debacle. Something Quinn agreed with when a reporter referenced it.

To their credit, the Red Wings kept coming at the Rangers in waves by using their speed to generate twice as many shots (10-5) and scoring chances. Eventually, the lack of checking cost them. On a play through the neutral zone, Niklas Kronwall fed Frans Nielsen, who dished to an onrushing Athanasiou. A great skater with tremendous skill, he went around Namestnikov and Pionk easily to beat Lundqvist with a nice backhand tuck that tied the game with 2:02 remaining. The look on Lundqvist told the story. Complete and utter disbelief.

Yes. The play was offside. That’s on the Rangers coaching staff for not challenging. They’re supposed to communicate from upstairs. Here is the freeze frame. It’s not even close.

Despite the evidence, I’m glad they didn’t challenge. They deserved what they got. You can’t play that way and expect to win. The crazy part is they almost didn’t get a point. Buchnevich took a horrible slashing minor penalty on Larkin in the offensive zone with 1:49 left. Thankfully, the penalty kill bailed him out. Otherwise, he could’ve been a goat. Quinn didn’t look pleased.

In the overtime, Buchnevich created the team’s best chance by skating with the puck around the Detroit net. But he didn’t look shot. There was room on his backhand for a wraparound. This is how the game ended:

The Rangers were unable to get a change. But no way should it have been that easy. Just very poorly played by Ryan Spooner and Zibanejad with only Shattenkirk back. It is what it is. The loss drops them to 7-7-2. We’ll see if they can redeem themselves later tonight.

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Game #14 – Leafs 6, Devils 1

Once again I don’t feel like posting the lowlights, Hynes’ postgame presser or anything else from this team as the lede, so instead I’ve been posting other stuff like Major League or Wargames with DEFCON 1.  Today it’s Rocky III.  Why that one?  Because this team looks like Rocky at the beginning of that movie, arrogant and happy – then when he fights Clubber he gets off to a great start for the first little while before totally collapsing after not listening to his trainer’s advice.  That’s what this team represents right now.  The Devils’ 4-0 start represents the first minute or so of the Clubber fight, after that this sorry excuse of a hockey club continues to get knocked around rink after rink now sinking to 2-7-1 in their last ten games with two straight blowouts and three in the last week and a half.  Other than perhaps the December death march a couple years ago, this team hasn’t been as pathetic when it ‘mattered’ since the Macloser era in 2010.

I’d have been better off not turning this game on at all.  As it was, I was with a friend during the first period and we didn’t have the game on but I did check the app a couple of times and saw things already weren’t going well down 1-0 with a horrible shot total against.  Then we did turn it in on in time for the start of the second, and moaned after another quick two goals went past Keith Kinkaid, took my friend’s dog outside to do number one (basically what the Devils have been doing all over themselves) then left her with her mom so they could get some rest.  I got home just after our one lousy goal but even just seeing the reaction when Travis Zajac scored was troubling.  The reaction was the dead emotionless celebration you’d expect at 6-1 with thirty seconds left in the game, not when it’s still theoretically a contest at 3-1.

Of course what you would expect to happen from a team of heartless zombies happened, as another two goals went past Kinkaid and you could see him shaking his head and rolling his eyes on the MSG camera after the fifth goal went in.  At that point I would have pulled KK, but for reasons known only to him coach John Hynes left his goalie in a four-goal game to start the third period when Cory Schneider got pulled at 4-2 the other night.  At that point the ‘contest’ is over with, just let your backup who’s played two NHL games in the last several months get some game action and try to get him some confidence.  Cory’s only good run in 2018 came after a similar no-pressure appearance in Game 2 of the playoffs that got him going.  Not that I do have any faith in him to get it going for a long period but when the puck’s not hitting your goalie it’s time to take a seat.

Although the coach certainly deserves some blame for this team’s continued lack of effort or structure (and he should get it through his thick skull putting all the team’s scoring on one line isn’t going to work on the road), I actually would not fire Hynes at this point.  Maybe it’s personal bias in part because he’s a likeable, well-meaning dude, maybe it’s the realization that this team just isn’t any good and last year was clearly a fluke at this point anyway.  Right now I’m more mad at GM Ray Shero and the players than at coach Hynes to be honest.  I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, we’re four years into the ‘rebuild’, when do we actually start trying to be a real contender?  If Shero fires Hynes at this point it’s quite frankly the coward’s way out when he didn’t do his job this offseason and let the team get stagnant.

And at some point this group of players needs to take accountability on themselves and be self-starters (to steal a Hynes cliche).  This is the kind of stretch where something drastic needs to happen.  If it’s not firing the coach then it’s a big trade, or something else earth-shattering like stripping Andy Greene of the C.  Right now, to be honest nobody deserves that letter – there are no leaders on this team.  If there were things wouldn’t have gotten this bad, this quick.  If we had a leader, someone would be airing out their peers in the locker room but as has been the case for years this organization is too milquetoast in terms of personalities.  Our last true ass-kicker as a head coach was Jacques Lemaire, although Hynes has his moments where he can be a hard-ass.  We haven’t had a captain who got in people’s grills since…Scott Stevens.  Sure guys like Greene, Bryce Salvador and Patrik Elias are consummate professionals – well at least the latter two were at the moment – but they aren’t the kind of guys that are going to get in someone’s face overtly.  Which is okay if you have a head coach or another respected guy in the room willing to do it, but if there is nobody fitting that description…

It’s so bad I’ve actually rooted for this team to get their face kicked in during more than one third period including tonight, somehow hoping THIS will be the embarassment that wakes them up.  But if getting wasted in Tampa or Ottawa didn’t wake them up or getting shut out in Brooklyn, why would being wasted in Toronto do anything?  This team has no pride and until they get it through their thick skulls that jobs and reputations are on the line as the season slips away in a hurry, nothing will change.

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Game #13 – Senators 7, Devils 3

Last year’s Devils were a little like the Cleveland Indians in the fictional movie Major League, picked for last by everyone they stun the experts and excite their fans to make the playoffs with a miracle late-season run.  Welp, so far this season has been like the beginning of Major League 2 where that same group comes back fat and happy thinking of everything but baseball, going back to their previous losing ways as a result.  Sadly once again the Devils are mirroring the faux Indians, playing aboslutely horrible and not even looking like they want to compete in the majority of these games.

For real life standards, this is bad now.  2-6-1 in their last nine games with an increasing number of blowouts is just inexcusable, whether you wanted to believe the Devils were a bubble team or a budding contender going into the season, this is bad by any standard.  Not quite 2010 bad yet but it’s getting there at an alarming rate.  It’s one thing to get blown out by Tampa Bay, but to get destroyed by OTTAWA, really?!  An Ottawa team where the owner is basically pulling a Rachel Phelps from Major League?  The same Ottawa team whose players were literally just outed in the back of an Uber having a grand old time complaining about their coaching staff and bragging about not paying attention to videos?

Even as negative as I’ve been about this team I didn’t see last night coming, especially after the previous night’s blowout win in Pittsburgh seemingly giving us a little momentum back.  Thank goodness for ‘real life concerns’ (re: midterms coverage) taking my attention away from last night’s game.  Unlike the Tampa game which I watched start to finish, I didn’t even turn it on when we got another 2-0 lead that would quickly melt away in an avalanche of goals.  Not that I was actually expecting us to give up SIX unanswered goals…SIX!  Clearly coach John Hynes has no answers anymore in trying to explain how a team that started 4-0 has disintegrated in such a short time, how this team keeps blowing either big early leads or mid-third period leads, and why this team just continues to be sloppy and haphazard.

They’re clearly an every-other-year team at this point in terms of effort and execution and Hynes’ early season popularity with the fanbase after last year’s playoff run and the Beind The Glass series visibility is going to disintegrate pretty quickly, especially now that Joel Quenneville was shockingly fired from the Blackhawks.  Not that I’d expect Ray Shero to go full Lou and pull the plug but now that it’s an option people are going to start wanting change the more this team continues to fall over themselves.

One thing I know for sure, I’m sick of Cory Schneider, not that I’m blaming him for last night neccesarily since the team obviously played no better under Keith Kinkaid, but it just seems like he’s cursed at this point.  Last night was a perfect prism of Cory’s entire tenure as a Devil – play well as the team collapses around him, then give up the killer soft goal in a close game and have that hangdog look on the bench as he gets pulled midway through the second period.  Despite the fact he’s a pending UFA and Cory’s signed for the next few years, they must ride Kinkaid till further notice, Cory should only play the back-to-backs and you might as well sacrifice him against the better teams so we have more of a chance to beat the weaker teams like Ottawa.

Not that there wasn’t plenty of blame to go around last night, I’m sure there was.  I would say it’s bag skate time but we already tried that a couple weeks ago, and the short term effect only lasted the next game and a half before the team went back to sucking lemons.  Since I didn’t watch I really have little else to say, I’m not in the mood for more of a rant especially since I’m at a loss over what needs to be done.  Unfortunately I think the staff is as well.

A big part of the problem is other than Hynes himself there’s really nobody in the locker room that will consistently get in his teammates’ face, there’s no bad cop other than the head coach.  Andy Greene’s a milquetoast ‘lead by example’ captain which is fine if you have enforcer lieutenants but who’s the enforcer lieutenant here, UFA role player Brian Boyle?  It’s certainly not Taylor Hall who’s also lead by example.  All we can hope for is this movie ends the same way as Major League 2 with the team getting their heads on straight in time for another miracle run.

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Game #15 The most exciting win in a long time as Rangers stun Canadiens 5-3

How would I describe tonight’s come from behind win over Montreal? Exciting. Amazing. Unreal. Terrific. You can find so many positive adjectives when it comes to their fourth consecutive win. The Rangers played the kind of determined, together and tough hockey they rarely did under Alain Vigneault. This was the best win of the season.

I can’t remember the last time I got so pumped up from a win. The Rangers came back to stun the Canadiens 5-3 at a loud MSG that drew a packed house of 17,428 screaming fans. I’m not the only one. This gem from MSG analyst Steve Valiquette on his way back home.

For so long, we have wanted to see the kinda resilient, in your face hockey we are getting from David Quinn’s Blueshirts. They never give up. Which reminds me of another classic movie reference from the 80’s in a epic scene.

If you don’t believe something is different following the Rangers’ epic rally from a 3-1 deficit in a stirring come from behind victory, then you’re as color blind as most voters on Election Day. Real change comes from within. But in hockey terms, it starts with the coach and how they adjust. Right now at the 15-game mark, Quinn has adjusted well. So has his team, who seem more united than they ever were the past two seasons.

Now 7-7-1 having increased the winning streak to four since Quinn called them out in LA, they have responded remarkably well. Beating the Sabres was one thing. But the way they got off the mat and wore down a tired Montreal club playing the second of a back-to-back following a win in Brooklyn, was impressive. Maybe it’s true they took advantage of opponents who were playing for a second straight night. However, it didn’t come easy against a much improved Habs team with more speed, skill and grit than before.

So when Neal Pionk got caught on a pinch leading to Tomas Tatar beating Henrik Lundqvist five-hole only 23 seconds in with Marc Staal back, it wasn’t the ideal start against the classic rival. I almost forgot why these teams have a holy rivalry that dates back to my Dad’s heyday in the 70’s. This game was a fresh reminder of why. Nevermind the awful refs who made a couple of questionable calls against us. It just toughened up the Rangers, who came together when facing a four minute Montreal power play followed by an abbreviated five-on-three.

They could’ve caved in after Cody McLeod was obviously given too many minutes after he charged defenseman Jeff Petry from behind. Mike Reilly responded by going back to get two for roughing. I’m not sure where they got the four minutes for roughing from, or the misconduct that earned McLeod 16 minutes. What I do know is McLeod was incensed at the Habs for a Max Domi run at Filip Chytil. Domi drew the attention of Marc Staal, who battled the Canadiens’ leading scorer in the first period. Neither McLeod nor Staal were gonna put up with Domi’s crap. That’s the difference under this coach. This team doesn’t back down. Not even following a foolish Brendan Smith minor penalty that handed the Habs a two-man advantage for 43 seconds.

They fought back by killing the penalties with excellent penalty killing and big saves from Henrik Lundqvist. Astonishingly, Montreal had only nine shots on seven power plays. Domi scored their lone power play goal to put them ahead 3-1 following rookie Lias Andersson’s second bad high sticking penalty. Rather than bench him, Quinn sent him back out to redeem himself in his season debut. I don’t think he would’ve seen another shift under Vigneault. Things are different now. The coach talks to his young players after mistakes, and gets his message across.

Andersson was part of a good penalty kill with his hustle leading to Smith leading Vladislav Namestnikov for a shorthanded bid, which Carey Price denied. He also played on a good energy line with Ryan Spooner and Jesper Fast. The cohesive trio forechecked the heck out of the Habs. It was promising. Andersson plays with the edge and grit Quinn likes. I would love to see him stay up even when Brett Howden returns. Why not? It’s not like McLeod should be a regular. Vinni Lettieri works hard, but the reality is he doesn’t bring any offense.

In the first, after trailing by one on Tatar’s early tally, Kevin Hayes worked some magic with Chris Kreider to tie the game. On a great rush, he passed up a shot to try a cross-ice feed that deflected back to him off a Montreal skate. He then passed across for a sweet Kreider finish for his team-leading seventh. During the goal celebration, Kreider pointed back to Hayes for the play.

The game was really a track meet between two young teams trying to establish themselves. Montreal came in with eight wins in their first 13. They already were the talk of hockey along with Vancouver. There was a lot of open ice and skating throughout. In the first, the teams combined for 28 shots with the Canadiens holding a 17-11 edge. Part of that was the way the game was played. The other part was the Rangers took two penalties to give the Habs the game’s first two power plays. Neither of which they could capitalize on. Staal and Domi each got two minute minors after a wrestling match. The goalies were good. They had to be.

In the second, a good shift by Montreal resulted in Tatar getting his second of the game from Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. It was some really good passing down low that allowed Tatar to redirect a Danault pass by Lundqvist for a one-goal lead. On the play, Brady Skjei lost his stick. Smith did a poor job covering for him. McLeod got lost in front on the goal against. Total domination by the Canadiens on that shift.

Andersson then took his second minor for high sticking less than a couple of minutes later. That didn’t end well for the penalty kill. They got caught skating in circles as Gallagher came out from the corner and fed Domi, who patiently outwaited Lundqvist, tucking a backhand in for his ninth. A terrific play for sure, but one that could’ve been prevented. Staal was unable to stop Gallagher and Mats Zuccarello forgot to take Domi backdoor. Just like that, they were down 3-1.

Then came the chaos between McLeod and Reilly, which refs Jean Hebert and Peter MacDougall complicated to loud jeers and some head shaking by Quinn at the bench. I had almost forgotten why I learned to hate Montreal. It’s got nothing to do with their fans, who are awesome and passionate. Everything to do with how they get the benefit of the calls. So does Toronto. But enough about that.

That’s when everything changed. The intensity level was already up to a feverish pitch. It’s the kind of hockey game I wish I was at. But the Montreal game sold. So, we stayed home and watched with the same intensity as the players. It was a really fun game. As good as the first was, the wild and crazy second was even better. Shots favored the Rangers, 13-12. They never got rattled by the penalties with Smith’s really dumb. It could’ve been costly.

Instead, they got everything killed off and then swung the momentum. A Tatar interference minor cancelled out the Smith penalty. During a four-on-four, they got some chances on Price, who was sharp. A Danault hook that took down a relentless Fast gave the Rangers a power play. It looked like they would waste it. They missed Howden, losing key offensive draws that allowed Montreal to clear the zone.

At that point, I was frustrated. But as the power play expired, Tony DeAngelo took a smart wrist shot that went through traffic with both Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey in front, which beat Price to cut it to 3-2 with 2:15 left. Hayes earned the primary assist, and Vesey got a deserved secondary helper. Without him directly in front of Price, that goal doesn’t happen. It really got the crowd going.

Still trailing by one, the Rangers applied all kinds of pressure on a exhausted Habs. They kept forechecking them to death. Eventually, they cracked. Ironically, it was some defensive work by Staal that led directly to the tying goal from a reenergized Pavel Buchnevich. After breaking up a play in front of Lundqvist, Staal worked the puck to Hayes, who was flying all night. He got the puck back to an open Staal at the point. He shot the puck, which Price muffed for a juicy rebound. Buchnevich was in the right place at the right time, depositing it through Price for his fourth goal to tie the score with 11:35 remaining. It was his first goal since returning on Sunday. It had to feel really good. He’s been so much more involved in all aspects. That’s what Quinn wanted. It was great to see.

With the game tied and the crowd into it, an unbelievable shift by the fourth line resulted in a standing ovation. That included McLeod, who I criticized earlier on Twitter. Funny how that works. After he returned, there he was along with a bunch of players battling for a puck against the boards. That included Filip Chytil, who was effective during his shifts. Eventually, McLeod freed the puck and passed to an open Staal for a routine shot that Price gloved to finally get a whistle. It was that good.

Following an obvious Montreal bench minor, Vesey was called for a dubious hook to negate the power play. It was an awful call. His stick accidentally got stuck in Petry. Utterly ridiculous. Vesey could only shake his head in disbelief as he headed to the penalty box.

What happened next was unreal. With the crowd still booing and myself ticked off yelling at the screen, here came Pionk from his own end. He outskated all four Habs, undressing the D and then going to a forehand deke tuck that may as well have hung Price’s jockstrap from the rafters. It was so fantastic that it prompted this electrifying reaction from the always excitable Kevin Weekes on NHL Network.

That is why I love Weekes. He truly is a great guy. He responds to tweets and is so much fun. I must say seeing Pionk pull that off from 200 feet behind his net was crazy. What a game-winner. The easiest assists Kreider and Zibanejad ever picked up.

Montreal still had a chance. But a brain cramp allowed Zibanejad to put the exclamation on the comeback with a shorthanded goal. The puck literally came back to him and he went upstairs on Price for the 5-3 final.

It’s amazing to think that this team is back to .500 (7-7-1). They have far exceeded expectations after the 3-7-1 start. They’re playing so hard for Quinn and forming much better work habits that can make fans proud to cheer for this team. This is an easy team to like. Bring on more excitement!

3 Rangers Stars

3rd 🌟 Marc Staal primary helper on Buchnevich goal, 2 takeaways, plus-three in 28 shifts (19:57)

2nd 🌟 Neal Pionk a goal of the year candidate for his second in two games, plus-two in 34 shifts (25:04) with four blocked shots

1st 🌟 Kevin Hayes 3 assists including 2 primary, 5 shots, 9 attempts, 13-and-17 on draws, plus-three in 29 shifts (21:52)

Notes: Zibanejad leads the team with two shorthanded goals. Good thing I scooped him up for fantasy. Cory Schneider is killing me. It sounds like his team hung him out to dry. … Andersson went 7-and-2 on draws with three shots in 18 shifts (12:17). He definitely looked good. … Shots were 34-32 Montreal with attempts 60-57 Habs. … Lundqvist made 31 saves compared with 27 from Price. … Rangers won the face off battle 35-30 paced by Andersson (7-2) and Zibanejad (12-6). The Habs were led by Andrew Shaw (8-6) with Domi going 9-and-9.

It looks like the Rangers have adopted the Relentless moniker this year that the Devils used last year. Why not?

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