Well, they sure didn’t make it easy on themselves. Can this schizo team ever? Even after controlling most of the game, the Rangers to hold on for a 2-1 win over the scrappy Devils at MSG. What should’ve been an easy two points turned chaotic due to the awfulness that is the power play.
Handed a fifth straight man-advantage which was drawn by their best forward J.T. Miller, who also notched the game-winner earlier in the third period- the Rangers did what only they could do to get the Devils back in the game. Keith Yandle lost control of the puck at the point due to Henrique forcing him into a turnover and came two-on-one with Travis Zajac with Girardi back. Henrique was able to slide a pass by Girardi to Zajac for a shorthanded goal with still 2:17 left. It was his second goal in the last 32 games.
Still on the power play, the Rangers panicked. Suddenly alive, the desperate Devils continued to pressure the point forcing Keith Yandle into another miscue. Lee Stempniak came in the opposite direction and nearly tied it but Henrik Lundqvist got just enough of a good shot from distance with his glove to preserve the lead with two minutes remaining.
Under duress even a man up which is typical of how useless the power play is, the Devils looked like they were on one keeping the puck in the Ranger zone. A huge battle ensued between Kyle Palmieri and Girardi with Palmieri knocking Girardi down in front of Lundqvist. Meanwhile, Mats Zuccarello got away with one causing the Devils bench to be hot. They didn’t get a single power play and probably deserved an abbreviated one late.
Once captain Andy Greene returned from the penalty box, the Devils applied the heat. Adam Henrique won a offensive draw which allowed coach John Hynes to pull Cory Schneider for an extra attacker with 40 seconds to go. Despite a relentless effort, the Devils couldn’t find a way to tie it. A sliding Girardi blocked a John Moore attempt. There was a huge battle in the corner. But the Rangers were able to come out with the puck and hold on for the victory.
For the most part, there were a lot of positives. The Rangers dominated the Devils in a lopsided first outshooting them 17-9. That included another 16 shots attempted giving them a ridiculous 33. They were all over them. But Schneider was unbelievable stopping everything. That included two power plays which of course couldn’t convert. Even with Yandle running it and them getting opportunities, it didn’t matter. It’s like they might never score on a power play ever again.
Continuing to carry the play in the second, the Rangers jumped out in front thanks to Kevin Klein converting off a pretty feed from Zuccarello at 4:47. Fractured thumb and all, Klein got into position following a strong forecheck from Zuccarello, who came out with the puck and beat three Devils before finding Klein for his fourth.
The play was made possible due to a brilliant rush from Chris Kreider, who went from point A to point B in about three seconds breaking in and forcing Schneider to make a big stop. When he plays like that, he’s impossible to stop. And Kreider was really good tonight playing maybe his best game of the season.
After killing off a Stempniak cross-check minor for knocking down Marc Staal, the Devils finally got going in the second half of the period. They started forechecking more and tested Lundqvist, forcing him to make 13 saves. To his credit, he was really sharp despite going minutes without action. He made 27 saves overall and matched Martin Brodeur for the most wins by a goalie in their first 11 seasons with his 365th victory (34th against the Devils).
It looked like it would be an easy win. Especially following a strong defensive sequence from Kevin Klein that led to Jesper Fast transitioning the puck to Derick Brassard who backed off two Devils and dropped for Miller, who quickly shot beating Schneider five-hole for a two-goal lead with 15:23 left in the third. It was Miller’s 17th overall and ninth over the past 10 games. He continues to be the team’s most consistent forward. It was also his tenacious forecheck that forced Greene to take him down for a power play with 2:39 left.
Unfortunately, it was abominable. It’s like they don’t even practice it. Of course, that can’t be true. But the Zajac shorthanded goal ruining Lundqvist’s shutout was so predictable. And Stempniak was this close to tying it. I wonder what Alain Vigneault thinks of him now.
At least they won. The victory was important because the Pens just don’t lose anymore. Not with Sidney Crosby on fire scoring twice more and setting up another in a 6-2 blowout of the Ducks. The Rangers lead the Pens by four points for second place. They are up to 65 with 29 games left. Pittsburgh went ahead of the idle Islanders for third with 61 and 30 left. The Isles hold down the second wildcard a point behind Detroit, who beat Tampa Bay. The Devils remain at 59 with 28 left. Carolina has 57 with 28 left. With a big win, Ottawa is up to 56 tying Montreal. Both have 28 to go.
It’ll continue to be a huge fight to the finish. For the Blueshirts, they have now won three in a row for the first time since a nine-game win streak in November. The games only get tougher with the first of four against the red hot Pens Wednesday. The rivals meet three more times in March. It should be fun.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Marc Staal, Rangers (assist, 2 blocked shots, very assertive, +2 in 26 shifts-20:06)
2nd Star-Cory Schneider, Devils (35 saves-another strong performance for Vezina candidate)
1st Star-Kevin Klein, Rangers (goal-4th despite fractured thumb, six attempts, +1 in 25 shifts-18:44)
Key Stat: Blocked shots Devils 27 (Larsson 5) Rangers 13 (Yandle 3)