“We can be heroes just for one day.”-David Bowie
On an emotional day for the music world, the Rangers dug deep in a come from behind 2-1 victory over the Bruins at MSG. It was their third win in the last five. Jesper Fast’s goal with 1:42 left in regulation gave them their first comeback win after two periods when trailing this season. His deflection of a wide Keith Yandle shot and some crucial stops from Henrik Lundqvist pulled them into second place two points ahead of the idle Islanders. They’ll face the Islanders next on Thursday at Barclays Center.
For two periods, little separated the Original 6 rivals. Boston and New York battled for every inch of ice. The Bruins had the lead thanks to Jimmy Hayes, whose unscreened 40-foot wrist shot beat Lundqvist at 9:04 of the second. Chris Kreider committed a turnover in the neutral zone that allowed Boston to transition the other direction for Hayes’ fifth in the last six games. Back in the lineup after missing two games with a hand cut, he tried a pass to himself off the boards. Zdeno Chara stopped him and Ryan Spooner sent Hayes in with Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein backing in too much.
It wasn’t the best goal for Lundqvist to allow. Having given up more uncharacteristic goals during a six-week long stretch that’s seen his goals-against-average rise to an Unking like 2.54, it was troublesome. Especially with him fighting the puck for the first 40 minutes. He still was able to keep them afloat while counterpart Tuukka Rask stopped the first 22 shots. Lundqvist was 21 of 22 entering the third.
Part of the problem was the Blueshirts were unable to get a consistent forecheck. They got shots on Rask but none were difficult. His defense allowed him to see the puck. In the third, that changed. Trailing by a goal, the Rangers drew even 35 seconds in thanks to a nice Derick Brassard put away in front off a Mats Zuccarello set up. A pinching Ryan McDonagh made the goal possible with two strong plays to keep the puck alive and push it down to Zuccarello, who turned it into a two-on-one that Brassard finished with his 15th.
That got what to that point had been a dead crowd back into it. Let’s face it. The hockey was hard to watch until Brassard scored. It was a defensive struggle between two desperate clubs in a tight playoff race. Boston entered with 47 points which had them tied with idle New Jersey for one of two wildcards. A point up on Ottawa and Florida with Pittsburgh two behind. The game was important for both clubs. So, what you got was a tactical battle.
At times, the Rangers were disjointed. Yandle got caught up ice twice leading to odd-man rushes in the first which had our team scrambling back. On the second one, Hayes had a step on younger brother Kevin Hayes forcing Lundqvist into a tough save before colliding with our goalie. He had nowhere to go. For a moment, he stayed down but was told by the officials to get up and back into the play. This is what you get in the NHL where players try to draw penalties even when it’s obviously not the case.
Prior to Hayes’ goal that broke a scoreless tie, Kreider had a great chance on a three-on-one but broke his stick on the shot. Such is his luck. Alain Vigneault mixed up his lines. He slid Rick Nash down to Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast for some shifts and also moved Kreider back up with Derek Stepan and Jayson Megna. Eventually, Nash was reunited with Brassard and Zuccarello for the third. Vigneault wisely subbed the more defensively responsible Fast for Megna with the game tied late. It paid huge dividends. Fast was able to screen Rask in front and neatly deflect a Yandle shot past the Bruins goalie at 18:18.
I’ve questioned Fast being in the top nine. But he’s one of the few forwards on the team who’s not afraid to go to the front of the net and get the jersey dirty. Earlier in the contest, he had another deflection go off the goalpost. It’s that kinda hustle that the Blueshirts too often lack. It was nice to see a determined player who doesn’t have that much talent get rewarded. I’ll take that kind of effort any day. Ditto for Tanner Glass, who along with Viktor Stalberg played another big boy game finishing with a game high 10 hits. He even had a shorthanded chance and was out with Dominic Moore and Stalberg with 35 seconds left protecting a one-goal lead.
It wasn’t without panic at the disco. The Bruins came close to tying it on the next shift. That pest Brad Marchand also took a nudge at Lundqvist after he stopped him in the final minute. Despite losing Dan Girardi to a lacerated hand, the Blueshirts prevailed with five defensemen. It wouldn’t have been possible without a ridiculous scorpion save from Lundqvist robbing Max Talbot a couple of minutes following Brassard’s tying marker. Credit Hank for responding to the challenge. He made 32 saves.
More pointedly, he emphasized the positive to MSG’s John Giannone following the game. Most of the attention has been on how up and down the Rangers have been. They’ve alternated wins and losses over the last eight (4-3-1). Rather than discuss how they haven’t won two straight since 11/21-23, Lundqvist chose to point out that their play has improved. He’s not wrong. Baby steps.
The most touching thing about the win was MSG playing David Bowie’s “We Can Be Heroes,” when the Blueshirts saluted the crowd at center ice. Bowie last his battle with cancer at 69. It’s sad that rock n’ roll lost another legend. But heaven gained another great one. Good on The Garden and the Rangers to pay tribute to Bowie. In fact, that should be their celebration song after every home win the rest of the season.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Kevin Klein, NYR (assist, 4 blocked shots in 32 big shifts, +1 in 25:50)
2nd Star-Viktor Stalberg, NYR (2 shots, 5 attempts, hit a post, 2 blocks in 19 shifts-13:34-playing best hockey)
1st Star-Jesper Fast, NYR (game-winner with 1:42 left-7th of season-perseverance pays off)