Kevin Hayes is congratulated by Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan after scoring the game-winner in the Rangers stunning 4-2 comeback win over the Blue Jackets. AP Photo by Jay LaPrete/Getty Images
You could’ve written about three different scripts and wouldn’t have come up with the stunning conclusion the Rangers delivered. Rising from the dead, the Rangers erupted for three goals in a 1:17 span to stun the Blue Jackets 4-2 spoiling their home opener at a loud Nationwide Arena of 19,027.
When Ryan McDonagh took a very bad delay of game penalty, it was shaping up to be a bad loss. New Blue Jacket Brandon Saad took full advantage snapping home his first past a maze in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Off a broken play, Saad took a Ryan Murray pass and beat a screened Lundqvist to give the Columbus hosts their only lead with 3:50 left in the the third period.
One thing about these Blueshirts. They never quit. There’s too much poise and experience on a roster that’s been to the NHL Final Four the past two years. The bigger story is who came through in the clutch. After scoring in the season opener, rookie Oscar Lindberg was at it again tying the score 1:14 later from J.T. Miller. It was the third line that got the job done for a second consecutive game. After Miller forced a turnover, he fed for Lindberg who snapped a low shot far side that beat Sergei Bobrovsky tying the score with 2:36 remaining.
What happened next no one could’ve predicted. Off some good sustained pressure, Kevin Hayes surprised Bobrovsky by throwing the puck from a bad angle short side catching the Columbus goalie napping to give the Blueshirts the lead 17 seconds after Lindberg tied it. Dan Girardi and Derek Stepan picked up assists.
Too stunned to respond, the Jackets got careless in their end. A awful turnover from Ryan Johansen led directly to Mats Zuccarello scoring his second of the night. Pressured by the Rangers top line, Johansen kicked the puck right to Zuccarello who made no mistake beating Bobrovsky for a third time in 1:17.
The wild sequence kept the Rangers perfect on the young season. They’ll try to sweep a home-and-home from the Jackets in the MSG opener Saturday night. They can thank Lundqvist who in his second straight start was outstanding making 31 saves. He faced some tough chances with Columbus attacking the net. The usually unflappable Lundqvist was up to the challenge.
Following player introductions, the Jackets came out like a house on fire in a seek and destroy mission. They forechecked and delivered big hits on the Blueshirts causing some welcome animosity to a fairly new rivalry. Marc Staal had had enough of Blue Jackets enforcer Jared Boll after he delivered a cross check. Staal retaliated punching Boll back and throwing him down. It resulted in an extra roughing minor on Boll as the Columbus bench and crowd protested. In retrospect, it probably should’ve been two apiece.
The Ranger power play was in rare form. I don’t mean that in a good way. They were brutal allowing the aggressive Jackets shorthanded opportunities which Lundqvist snuffed out. Good thing the man-advantage only had two chances with the second coming after Rene Bourque caught McDonagh a little late with a high hit. The Rangers captain didn’t take well to it and neither did his incensed teammates.
Despite having two power plays, the Rangers were only credited with six shots by the Jackets scorekeeper who apparently isn’t a fan of Rick Nash. He had at least one that was missed. When the teams played hockey, the Rangers got on the board first thanks to some hustle from Dominic Moore and skill by Zuccarello. Moore forced a turnover behind the Columbus net allowing Zuccarello to sneak a backhand past Bobrovsky for an unassisted tally at 19:16.
Penalties were the story in an uneven second. The Blueshirts were undisciplined taking three minors which hurt their momentum. Following a successful kill of a Jesper Fast slash that denied a scoring chance, Dan Boyle took a needless tripping minor sending the Jackets back to the power play. But a strong New York penalty kill didn’t give up much. Keeping Columbus to the outside, they allowed one shot to Brandon Dubinsky which Lundqvist got just enough of the pad on to keep it out. Lindberg then made a big clear to save a goal.
To their credit, the Jackets played hockey following the overly physical first that put them behind. They out-shot the Rangers 14-10 in a better second. Midway thru the match, Lundqvist was stopping everything. But a critical mistake by Derick Brassard led to a Cam Atkinson breakaway goal that tied it with 9:01 left in the period. With the Rangers in transition, Keith Yandle made a good pass across to Brassard who mishandled it. With the D changing, Dubinsky made a perfect outlet for Atkinson who cut in on Lundqvist and went forehand deke for his first. Girardi didn’t get there in time after changing for Kevin Klein.
One of the themes entering Friday’s match was Alain Vigneault’s criticism of the top line. He expects them to be consistent. They didn’t accept the challenge with particularly Brassard not sharp. He’ll hear about that turnover. Nash wasn’t great either hearing the boos while registering one shot. On the other hand, Zuccarello was his usual feisty self mixing it up after roughing up Boone Jenner late in the second. Another penalty his teammates killed.
Then there was the third. Not much was happening. The second line of Hayes, Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan created chances but were unable to finish. Especially Kreider, whose speed gave the Jackets fits throughout. He also delivered a late hit in the first that injured Columbus forward Alexander Wennberg who left with a “upper body” injury. MSG didn’t show any replay which was uncharacteristic for even them. I’ll try to find the video.
Late in the contest, both goalies had performed well keeping it tied. But then McDonagh’s delay of game led to Saad’s power play goal which put the Jackets up. Then it came apart for Columbus in epic fashion with Lindberg and Hayes scoring 17 seconds apart. The latter which was just awful. A smart play by Hayes who got the unusual winner in a game that seemed headed to a 3-on-3 roller derby. Instead, Zuccarello padded the lead causing boos from the Jackets crowd.
For their part, the Rangers will take it. They’re 2-for-2 despite playing their best hockey. It allowed Vigneault to win his 100th game as Rangers coach. The home opener is tomorrow.
Battle Of New York 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Brandon Dubinsky, Jackets (set up Atkinson’s tally-easily their best player)
2nd Star-Oscar Lindberg, Rangers (scored tying goal for 2nd in 2 games-he belongs)
1st Star-Mats Zuccarello, Rangers (2 goals on 4 shots-that’ll help your shooting percentage)