Derick Brassard made sure the Rangers went into the All-Star break on a high note. After a disjointed performance in a 3-0 defeat at Ottawa Sunday, Brassard exploded for a career high five points helping the Rangers past the Sabres 6-3 at MSG Monday night. He entered without a point over the past five games.
”For me, I have been struggling the last two weeks to find some offense and I hope this will give me some confidence,” Brassard said after being named the game’s first star.
”We knew it was only a matter of time,” captain Ryan McDonagh noted while referencing that Brassard had battled the flu recently. ”You get a tough illness like that, it’s tough to get your body back to feeling the way you want to feel as a hockey player. It’s great to see him break through before the break.”
Playing without Rick Nash a second straight game, the Rangers played a tale of two games with the Sabres. The first part was lower scoring with the Garden hosts ahead 2-1 after two periods. The teams traded goals in the first period. Dylan McIlrath opened the scoring from Keith Yandle and Brassard by beating Buffalo backup Chad Johnson with a clean wrist shot through traffic. Buffalo forward Brian Gionta evened it with a nice deflection of a Marcus Foligno shot. Zach Bogosian added a helper on Gionta’s sixth.
Viktor Stalberg got the lone goal of the second stanza. He continues to play well. The checking winger got to a loose puck of a fanned Kevin Hayes shot and fired an off balance turnaround shot that beat Johnson for his seventh at 14:51. Oscar Lindberg also notched a secondary helper. That allowed the Rangers to take a one-goal lead to the locker room.
Then came a whale of a third in which the two teams combined to score six goals. Brassard got it started when he redirected a Jesper Fast feed off his skate legally for a 3-1 lead at 1:06. Kevin Klein also assisted on the play.
But before they could breathe, the Sabres struck twice within a 1:13 span. Zemgus Girgensons was the beneficiary of two great passes from prized rookie Jack Eichel. Quiet for two periods, Eichel kicked a puck to an open Girgensons in front allowing him to beat Henrik Lundqvist at 4:31. On the next shift, it was Eichel again flying in transition making a perfect backhand saucer feed that allowed Girgensons to walk in and beat Lundqvist with a backhand tuck inside the post. On both goals, Marc Staal and partner Klein were victimized. The fourth line was also burned on Girgensons’ tying goal.
Rather than hang their heads, the Rangers responded immediately thanks to J.T. Miller, who finished off his 13th from Fast and Miller a minute later. While in transition, Brassard passed across for Fast, whose pass deflected right to Miller at the goal mouth for a lay-up. Miller continues to excel. Tonight, it was with Brassard.
”If you asked him he probably wished over the last couple of games he could have brought more production but at the same time, he plays the same way every game,” Miller said. ”He still brings it and this was a great example of what kind of threat he is with and without the puck.”
Mats Zuccarello got a little insurance when he connected for a power play goal a few minutes later. He and Derek Stepan worked a give-and-go resulting in Stepan dishing across for a sweet Zuccarello one-time finish for his team-leading 18th. Brassard set it up with his third helper.
As things got heated between Dan Girardi and Sabres’ antagonist Evander Kane, Brassard put the exclamation point on his big night by scoring his 17th unassisted into an empty net at 19:24. Behind the play, Girardi and Kane were shoving and chatting. About what I have no idea. That’s who Kane is. He competes every shift. My guess is he was just frustrated after going minus-three with five shots and three hits in over 21 minutes of action. The Sabres’ big line with Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn were shutdown. They went a combined minus-eight. Top defensemen Bogosian and Rasmus Ristolainen each were minus-three.
For the Blueshirts, it was exactly what they needed. A win that allowed them to escape on a better note. They won three of their final four. Combined with a Islanders’ 4-2 loss to the Red Wings, they’re in second place with 59 points. Three up on the Isles and four ahead of the Devils with the Penguins six back.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Zemgus Girgensons, Buf (2 goals-4, 5, +1 in 19 shifts-14:34)
2nd Star-Jesper Fast, NYR (2 assists, +2 in 20 shifts-14:34)
1st Star-Derick Brassard, NYR (2 goals, 3 assists for career high 5 points, 6 SOG, 11-and-8 on faceoffs, +3 in 23 shifts-19:17)