The Rangers top defensive pair wouldn’t allow them to lose. Dan Girardi’s goal with 3:28 left in regulation and Ryan McDonagh’s goal at 1:56 of overtime highlighted an emotional 4-3 comeback win over the Coyotes at MSG.
On a night where they honored new franchise leader in wins and shutouts, the Rangers came out flat. Prior to the start, they held a five-minute ceremony and video tribute for record breaker Henrik Lundqvist. As usual, a first rate job by MSG having both Ed Giacomin and Mike Richter out at center ice along with Lundqvist’s wife and daughter. Alternates Girardi, Brad Richards and Marc Staal also presented him with a brand new electric guitar.
An undisciplined Rick Nash hooking minor in the offensive zone led directly to Oliver Ekman-Larsson scoring a power play goal for the game’s opening tally. The Rangers penalty kill had been very good lately but allowed Ekman-Larsson to score on the rush. His shot deflected off Ryan McDonagh over the glove of Lundqvist. Keith Yandle and Mike Smith picked up assists.
Continuing to apply pressure, the Coyotes set up Ekman-Larsson for another opportunity but Lundqvist got a piece of it with his glove steering it out of trouble. Despite being outworked a majority of the first period, the Rangers’ fourth line provided a lift. In particular, Dominic Moore did some fantastic work sneaking in on Smith who denied him. The line with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett were relentless helping spark a comeback.
Despite the shots almost being even, Phoenix took advantage of a Derick Brassard turnover to go ahead 2-0. Of all people, it was one-time Ranger Jeff Halpern who deposited a Kyle Chipchura backhand feed from behind the net past Lundqvist. Off a strong cycle from the Yotes’ fourth line, defenseman Michael Stone pushed the puck deep to Chipchura who centered for a wide open Halpern for his fifth.
After getting booed off the ice, the Rangers responded with a much better second. They rallied back from a two-goal deficit thanks to a much harder forecheck. It was the polar opposite of the opening stanza when the Coyotes controlled most of the play and won most battles. Off some strong work from Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin, Richards broke through scoring his first goal in 11 games to cut it to 2-1. Pouliot started it with a strong defensive play getting the puck to Hagelin, who held the puck skating around the Phoenix net before firing a shot through traffic Richards deflected home for his 17th.
On a night Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis saw limited action due to the flu, Alain Vigneault got creative throwing different combinations together. It paid dividends. In particular, Hagelin was flying with Pouliot and Richards. Stepan only got 7:04 of ice-time but Vigneault threw him on for an offensive zone draw. He won it and nearly tied it off a Chris Kreider set up if not for a lightning like Smith reflex glove save.
Following a crucial kill of a McDonagh minor, they drew even thanks to Brassard. Off some good Ranger pressure, Derek Morris gave away the puck allowing Mats Zuccarello and McDonagh to create a three on two down low. Eventually, McDonagh got the puck over to an isolated Brassard who atoned for his earlier gaffe finishing off his 17th. Despite largely outplaying the Yotes, they fell back behind when Kreider had a forgettable shift. After missing the net which led to a Phoenix rush, he accidentally poked in Chipchura’s centering pass by Lundqvist allowing Phoenix to retake the lead.
What happened in the third was unpredictable. With the Yotes recently having problems protecting leads, they went into a defensive shell. This was expected. For most of the third, it worked. The Rangers were unable to mount a consistent attack. Some strong pressure from Dorsett allowed Anton Stralman to step into a shot that Smith harmlessly gloved. Unfortunately for him, he would not finish the game after getting bowled over by Brassard who fell on the Coyotes’ number one goalie. It was ugly with a hobbled Smith helped off the ice. From my vantage point, it should’ve been a goalie interference on Brassard. The ref was right on top of it and made no call. Thomas Greiss replaced him.
After Hagelin and David Moss were off for coincidental minors, Staal was sent off for holding Ekman-Larsson in the offensive zone. While many felt it was overkill, it was a make up call and would’ve led to a chance. So, good call. Lundqvist was called on to make some key saves. On a memorable night, his biggest came when the team was down two and he robbed the Coyotes on a two on one with a sliding pad stop.
Finally off an all out attack, they tied it. Oddly enough, Girardi was in front when McDonagh took a Pouliot feed and teed one up. The defensive defenseman got a piece of it tying it once more 3-3 at 16:32. Girardi doesn’t score many but his first in 15 games was clutch. A nice reward for a guy I’d like to see become the next captain. Even though the fans choice is McDonagh, who played the ultimate hero less than two minutes into OT.
Off some strong work from Hagelin, he worked the puck to Girardi at the right point. This time, it was Girardi who took the shot with McDonagh in front. His low shot caromed off Greiss right to McDonagh, who steered in his 13th sending an excited Lundqvist across the ice with teammates off the bench. A great character win from a team that is finding a way when it’s needed most. The two points combined with the Flyers 3-2 regulation loss to the Kings put the Rangers back in second a point up with Philly visiting Wednesday.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Oliver Ekman-Larrson, PHX (power play goal-13th, 4 SOG, strong throughout)
2nd Star-Hagelin/Pouliot, NYR (2 assists each, 4 total points, 7 combined shots, plus-5-tremendous energy)
1st Star-McDonagh/Girardi, NYR (2 goals, 3 assists, 5 points, tying and winning goals, plus-six-one of NHL’s best defensive pairs showed why)