Game Review: Rangers find a way past Leafs 4-2


Stepan Up: Derek Stepan celebrates his clutch game-winner with 1:31 left in a Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Leafs.  AP Photo by Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

It would’ve been disastrous to not come away with two points tonight. But also understandable given the despicable act that took place at Air Canada Centre. A Leo Komarov cheap shot likely concussed Ryan McDonagh again. We won’t know the full details until the next 48 hours. Playing without their best defenseman the final two periods, the Rangers found a way past the hapless Leafs 4-2 to bounce back from a tough home defeat.

Playing as ugly a first period as possible, they fell behind on an early goal from P.A. Parenteau off his skate past Antti Raanta. Then came the ugly part. Komarov delivered a blatant elbow to a defenseless McDonagh, catching him in the jaw with 1:02 left in the period. He was given a match penalty. The second player to earn one after delivering a cheap shot on the Ranger captain. Will the geniuses at the NHL Department of Player Safety discipline Komarov further? They’ll probably ignore it like they do everything else.

At least the Rangers woke up in the second scoring twice. That included a power play goal for a fourth straight game thanks to a 5-on-3 PPG from leading scorer Derick Brassard which tied the game. Mats Zuccarello put them ahead from Derek Stepan and J.T. Miller.

It was hold on for dear life afterwards. The Rangers made four consecutive trips to the penalty box. For once, the penalty kill came through. It wasn’t enough to hold off a relentless Leafs’ attack in a lopsided third. Recent pickup Colin Greening gave Dominic Moore a push to get to a loose puck and stuff home the tying goal with 2:30 left in the third.

On the following shift, Miller took advantage of a Morgan Rielly turnover. Taking him off the puck, he fed Zuccarello who found Stepan for an easy one-timer into an open side past a helpless Jonathan Bernier for the winner with 1:31 remaining. Zuccarello set up Brassard for an empty netter at 19:40.

Here are some more observations:

1.The Rangers won due to Raanta. He was fantastic making 35 saves. It’s been a rough stretch for the former Blackhawk. Tonight, he was ready making huge stops with his team flat. It was nice to see him get his first win since 11/15 which also came against the Leafs. Raanta won this game and got rewarded with The Broadway Hat.

”There’s no doubt that if it wouldn’t have been for Antti, it wouldn’t have been a game.”-Alain Vigneault

2.Hockey is strange. On Wednesday, the Rangers outplayed the Blackhawks by a wide margin out-shooting them 34-20 and out-attempting them 63-38. But Chicago scored three times on the power play to win 5-3. The Leafs clearly were the better team Thursday out-shooting the Blueshirts 37-20 and out-attempting them by an even wider 73-37. They lost because well, they’re the Leafs.

”Let’s face it, we carried the play. … We had all the opportunity, we should’ve won the hockey game. We turned the puck over twice and gave them two free goals.”-Toronto coach Mike Babcock

3.It is interesting to note that Vigneault replaced Chris Kreider on the Stepan-Zuccarello line with Miller. Look at his impact. Unlike Kreider who at times disappears, Miller is always around the puck. He’s more involved and is a better player. He winds up with three assists including another coming on the power play. Then his imprints were all over his line’s two goals. He is just a smart player who’s more consistent than Kreider. It’ll be interesting to see what happens this summer with both restricted along with Kevin Hayes.

4.Brassard continues to play at a high level. He gets number 21 with that lethal shot off a perfect Keith Yandle set up. Then gets rewarded at the end with an unselfish Zuccarello passing to him for number 22. Every goal is a new career high. There are 24 games left. He probably won’t reach 30.

5.Zuccarello has really turned it on. With a goal and two helpers, that gives him seven points (2-5-7) in the last four and a cool dozen (3-9-12) over the last 10. For a while, he hit a wall and wasn’t a factor. Ditto for Brassard, who is back with a vengeance. But it’s Zucc who is the heart of this team. How different would last Spring have been if he didn’t go down? It’s still amazing that he’s able to play at such a high level after suffering a brain contusion and partial fracture. He is the catalyst.

6.Stepan’s game has been coming. He’s scoring big goals. When it comes down to it, D-Step is clutch. He isn’t the most productive for the money ($6.5 million) he’s making. However, you need consistency from your line mates. Kreider hasn’t been. Since Vigneault wisely took Zuccarello off the top unit and put him with Stepan and mostly Kreider, it’s clicked. D-Step recorded his third two-point game in the last four. He’s 4-3-7 in the last five.

7.With a helper, that gives Yandle 29 assists. He has an assist in five straight. KY93 has a goal and seven helpers over the last 10. How important has he become with McDonagh probably sidelined again? Does anyone still think making that trade at last year’s deadline was bad? The defense would be in shambles without him. Whatever happens this July, so be it. But the Rangers are much better off with him than Anthony Duclair, the second round pick and the conditional first. They are a Win Now team. So it’s time to put the whole future stuff away.

8.Did Glen Sather overpay? Absolutely. But he only parted with one prospect. Duclair is gonna be a good one. He’s scored 16 times for Arizona. But they got Yandle at a bargain rate with the ‘Yotes picking up half the salary. So, Don Maloney did Slats a favor. On the open market, Yandle should command between $6-7 million per year. With the salary cap rumored to be going down due to the Canadian dollar, the question for new GM Jeff Gorton is can he subtract enough salary to retain Yandle? At this point, they need to.

9.Regarding the Komarov cheap shot that injured McDonagh, it’s just another disgusting hit that doesn’t belong in the NHL. Will he pay? Would you trust Player Safety? They let Radko Gudas off the hook twice. As for Wayne Simmonds, he should’ve gotten a couple of games for the gloved punch that concussed McDonagh. Instead, he played the next day and then faced Dylan McIlrath in the MSG rematch.

10.One thing that bothers me is as long as the Department Of Player Safety continues to turn the other way on illegal hits that target the head, these incidents will continue to occur. Players just don’t respect each other. The bad apples will continue to push the envelope. Head shots should be an automatic five games off. If they at least put a minimum of five games in with further review determining whether guilty parties should receive more punishment, that would at least send a message.

11.I’m told over and over again how having Tanner Glass in the lineup really deters the opposition. It’s a running joke from fans who dislike Glass. Did they hate him for beating Ryan White in the first minute against the Flyers? The silence was deafening. Understand. Glass isn’t a true enforcer. What can enforcers do at this point to prevent such incidents? They can stick up for teammates at the appropriate time. As long as the instigator is in place, it makes it harder for players to police themselves without putting their team at risk. The glory days are gone.

12.I’m not advocating having Glass in every game. That’s what Vigneault chooses to do. There’s no doubt a fourth line with Tanner and “penalty kill specialist” Daniel Paille isn’t conducive at even strength. Dominic Moore can only do so much to prevent opponents from getting the match-up. It’s the fault of management that they haven’t addressed the fourth line. How many times do we have to see it get caught out against a top line? Cringe worthy.

13.I’ll continue to believe Ryan Bourque could fill the role Paille is. He’s also a better skater. But remains in jail.

14.Marc Staal was back after missing Wednesday for the birth of his daughter. A good thing too because once McDonagh went down, they needed him. A team leader, the bearded ginger logged a team high 25:17 taking 32 shifts. He took a penalty but went plus-two getting 20:48 at even strength and another 4:29 shorthanded. It’s not always easy with him. He and partner Dan Boyle were victimized on Greening’s tying goal. But there was enough support. The third line with Moore replacing Oscar Lindberg didn’t get the job done.

15.As is often the case when they’re outplayed, the Blueshirts are sacrificing their bodies. They blocked 20 shots led by Dan Girardi’s five. Think he’s not important? He played a team high 7:36 on the PK, which was perfect. Or three minutes more than the next defenseman.

16.So of course Dylan McIlrath was scratched due to Staal’s return so Boyle could play 16:51 and go minus-one. I get that Big Mac was shaky against the Hawks. But they are the Hawks. What would be the harm in dressing McIlrath and giving Boyle a night off in the second of a back-to-back? I would imagine Big Mac would’ve tried to avenge McDonagh.

17.McDonagh had just returned after missing four games from a concussion. Now, he might have another one. Very scary. He looked woozy at the bench. Eventually, he went through the concussion protocol between periods and didn’t return. It’s very worrisome. He’s their best defenseman. They can’t go anywhere without him.

18.If it is the worst result, the Rangers should keep McDonagh out until April. It isn’t worth the risk. See Ken Campbell’s piece on Eric Lindros. It’s a fantastic read.

Lindros then articulates what everyone in the hockey world knows – that the six concussions he suffered in less than two years were largely responsible for his premature decline as an NHL player and made him a shell of his former dominant self. The first one came March 7, 1998, when he was levelled by Darius Kasparaitis, and the last came 811 days later on May 26, 2000. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, Lindros was knocked out by Scott Stevens with the kind of hit that got Stevens into the Hall of Fame but would have earned him a long suspension in today’s NHL. It left Lindros curled on the ice in the fetal position. His career would never be the same. “I certainly did not play as well during the latter stages of my career,” Lindros says. “I hated going through the middle. I had huge fears. It’s tough going from being so assertive – you never show any cracks – to having an ‘X’ on your back. Players who would have never spoken or taken liberties in the past, it was happening all the time. I had a fear of cutting through the middle. Absolutely. Could I still shoot and pass? I could still score, but it wasn’t the same game.

19.It didn’t matter how they won. They were down McDonagh and were gassed. So, the Leafs tying it was predictable. As I watched with my brother and buddy at Applebee’s, I expected it. When it happened, it wasn’t surprising. Great response. They found a way to win against a team they had to beat.

20.The two points were crucial giving them 72. The Isles earned a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to those regular season champion Caps. The Pens defeated the Red Wings 6-3. So, the Rangers remain five up on the Isles with Brooklyn holding two games at hand. They’re six clear of the Crosby’s, who also have two extras. The idle Devils fall out of the wildcard to a point out.

21.The Rangers get a much needed two-day rest to prepare for the Red Wings. When they play, the games are always fun. My preseason Eastern Conference Final preview takes place at MSG with a special 6 PM start time on Hockey Day In America. It also features an Outdoor game with those league darling Blackhawks visiting the Wild in St. Paul. The following weekend, the Coors Light Stadium Series features the Red Wings and Avalanche at Coors Field.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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