As if you didn’t already know, the Rangers are back in the playoffs. For the fifth straight year, it became official last night when they put a halt to the Senators’ seven-game win streak with a convincing 5-1 win at Canadian Tire Centre. The victory was a good response to a 4-2 home disappointment to the Kings, who flexed their muscles by sweeping the three locals including a 3-2 win over the Islanders last night. Now tied with Anaheim for the most points with 101, the Rangers continue to chase a President’s Trophy that would guarantee home ice.
Chris Kreider had a big night scoring twice and assisting on another. It was his first multi-point night since a two-goal performance in a Feb. 26 win over Arizona. The second-year forward has four points (3-1-4) in the last three games. Along with Derek Stepan (2 assists), they’re heating up at the right time. Rick Nash didn’t score for the eighth straight game but did register his second assist in the last three setting up a pretty Dan Boyle goal off the rush.
Among the highlights, Kevin Hayes set up Tanner Glass’ first goal of the season. Glass came out of the penalty box in the third and Hayes made a perfect outlet allowing Glass to walk in and beat Andrew Hammond to chase him. That in itself was a big story. Already dubbed the “Hamburglar” for a 14-0-1 start to his NHL career, the 27-year old undrafted sensation had never lost in regulation. His run has been amazing leading the Sens past the Bruins into the second wildcard which they still lead due to one less game played. They’re currently tied with 85 points. Boston lost in overtime to Anaheim.
”You’ve got to help out your goaltender, especially with Hammer since he’s stood on his head for us for so many games in a row,” Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot said. ”We certainly didn’t do him any favors and it showed and we got pumped on the scoreboard.”
Kreider got the scoring started thanks to a brilliant pass from Stepan. Using the side boards, Stepan banked a pass that allowed a rushing Kreider to walk in and beat Hammond for his 19th at 12:38. But before they got comfortable, Curtis Lazar tied it 19 seconds later from Erik Condra.
”I thought it was pretty sloppy for the first 10 minutes or so and then I think both teams did a good job executing the second half of that first period,” Kreider said after recording his first 20-goal season while adding his 40th point.
The Rangers replied back twice within a 4:20 span to take a 3-1 lead to the locker room. First, Kreider passed for an on rushing Nash, who pulled up and found trailer Boyle for his ninth at 14:40. With exactly a minute left, Kreider was the beneficiary of a bad rebound Hammond allowed on a Stepan shot. Off a Sens’ turnover in the neutral zone, Mats Zuccarello fed Stepan, who surprised Hammond. He couldn’t control the rebound which took a funny bounce right to Kreider, who stuffed home number 20.
The Sens never recovered. The Rangers added two more goals in the second. A nice Keith Yandle outlet for Hayes allowed him to make a diagonal feed across for a wide open Zuccarello, who buried his 14th into an open side increasing to 4-1 at 1:42.
Even with a rare loss of discipline that included a Nash’s second consecutive minor followed by a Glass slash leading to an Ottawa 34-second five-on-three, they failed to cash in. In fact, they only had four shots in the period despite three consecutive power plays. In what likely was his final start as the number one goalie, Cam Talbot made 23 saves to win his 20th game. Amazingly, the Rangers now boast two netminders with at least 20 wins. Henrik Lundqvist, who backed up could finally return tomorrow against Boston. He has 25 wins. The Rangers play on Saturday and Sunday. He’ll get one of the games.
The final highlight was Glass’ goal. The much maligned fourth liner has been playing better the last couple of weeks. I noted to my brother that he was coming close to scoring. Finally, the hard work paid off. After coming out of the penalty box, Hayes found him for a breakaway and he was able to beat Hammond with a quick snapshot leading to a smile along with congrats from happy teammates. It was a nice moment for a good team guy.
”We played pretty well away from the puck and we were able to take it home and get two points to clinch a playoff spot,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. ”Probably caught their goalie on an off night and we were able to capitalize early.”
Curiously, Hammond admitted that he’s been playing with an injury following the loss. It’ll be interesting to see what that means for Ottawa’s playoff chances. Chris Driedger replaced him making his NHL debut.
For the Rangers, it’s different. With nine games left, it now becomes about getting Lundqvist ready. There aren’t many off days. So, Vigneault should have no problem getting the franchise goalie enough action. How soon will Lundqvist get sharp? Sometimes, it takes a while. We’ve seen in the past that it takes him time. It’s a storyline worth following.
Notes: Dan Girardi didn’t play the third after blocking a shot. He still logged 21:21 taking an incredible 28 shifts. Danny G is the true definition of a warrior. For all the flak he gets from unappreciative fans, the guy has more heart than anyone. … Rangers visit Boston for a 1 PM matinee tomorrow before returning to MSG Sunday to host the Capitals.