Hayes scores with 1:09 left in a Rangers birthday 2-1 win over the Jets


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Purple Hayes: Kevin Hayes celebrates his game-winning power play goal with 1:09 left to highlight a nice Rangers 2-1 win at Winnipeg. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

What would my birthday be without hockey? Well, I didn’t see much of it and for good reason. Turning 40 has its purposes. Celebrating life for 40 years is pretty special. Doing it with family and close friends at a beautiful restaurant in Brooklyn Heights is priceless. No pun intended to my Devil buddies.

I must say this because it’s important to get the message out. Every day spent here is a blessing. For now 40 years, I can count mine. Dinner was unreal, amazing and delicious. I would recommend Henry’s End to anyone if they want great food and are in downtown Brooklyn over by Cadman Plaza. It’s been a while since we went. But the place’s charm hasn’t changed. Make a reservation.

As for the walking wounded, the Rangers didn’t do too badly at Winnipeg. Despite no Rick Nash, no Jimmy Vesey and no Matt Puempel, they gave me a nice present in the form of a well earned 2-1 birthday win over the Jets in one of the league’s loudest buildings. It is no small feat to go into Winnipeg and come out on top. Even though they have been up and down despite one of the game’s bright young stars in Calder front runner Patrik Laine and rising star Mark Scheifele, the Jets can be tough to play on home ice.

Kudos to the Blueshirts for turning in a strong performance. They held the Jets to only 18 shots with capable backup Antti Raanta finishing with 17 saves in a well earned one-goal victory. A nice bounce back win following Tuesday’s disappointment against the Islanders. It came at a good time allowing them to keep pace with the Penguins (5-1 winners over Panthers) and the red hot Flyers, who won their seventh straight in a 6-5 victory over the Oilers. With the division so tight, every game counts even on December 8 two weeks before Christmas.

They won it with special teams. A sore spot in the 4-2 loss in Brooklyn, the Rangers scored twice on the power play and killed all three Winnipeg man-advantages. They even prevented Laine from registering a shot. He only entered with 17 goals right with Sidney Crosby, who of course scored again. Laine missed the net twice including on the final Winnipeg power play which the Rangers killed off with Michael Grabner off for high-sticking. A crucial kill that kept the game tied.

It was the power play that delivered twice. Once in the first period on some great passing between Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan to set up Chris Kreider on the doorstep at 8:02. It was Kreider’s seventh. He’s quietly been playing well by putting up points. Even though the goals aren’t where you’d like it to be, don’t forget he missed six games due to neck spasms. He has 18 points (7-11-18) in 22 contests. A nice pace for a player who continues to drive hard to the net and screen goalies while looking for deflections.

Stepan is up to 19 points. He’s quietly picked it up with Mika Zibanejad out. That is a trend that must continue. He is counted on for production and trusted by Alain Vigneault,¬†who uses him in all situations including power play and penalty kill. Zuccarello also got a helper. Hopefully soon, he’ll find the back of the net. He’s been stuck on seven goals for a while.

The Jets were able to tie the game midway thru the game when Stepan was unable to check a bigger man in Scheifele, who put away a pass from Paul Postma at 9:51 of the second. Dustin Byfuglien drew the other assist. Speaking of the big dangerous defenseman, he hit one of three goalposts for Winnipeg. So, Raanta had help from his best friend. Andrew Copp also rang one off the bar. The Rangers hit one post against Michael Hutchinson.

The odd thing about this game is there weren’t a whole lot of shots. The teams combined for 42 total and even attempts were down. The Rangers outshot Winnipeg 24-18 and out-attempted them 47-36. Even hits were low with the teams combining for 43 (Jets 22 Rangers 21).

As it turned out, the difference was a Kevin Hayes power play goal with 1:09 remaining. With Drew Stafford off for high-sticking, J.T. Miller got the puck to Ryan McDonagh, who made a brilliant pass down low for an open Hayes for a tap in. Just a real good read by a superb defenseman who continues to lead this team. McDonagh’s 14 assists are tied with Stepan for the team lead. A workhorse who logged the most ice-time with 23:50 in 29 shifts, the captain leads all Blueshirt defensemen in points with 15. He’s continued to be a constant which has the Rangers up to 18-9-1 in their first 28 games.

Returning from Austria to be with his family for the burial of his grandmother, Grabner reunited with Hayes and Miller on a cohesive line that didn’t miss a beat. As Hayes pointed out to John Giannone in the post game, they could’ve easily scored more goals.

With it being the first of a back-to-back with a visit to the Blackhawks on Friday, Vigneault didn’t hesitate to use everyone. Oscar Lindberg played a key defensive role late helping protect the one-goal lead with Grabner, Jesper Fast along with old hat tandem Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. Both did a phenomenal job limiting the Jets down low. It was like old times. They got plenty of help from Lindberg, Fast and Grabner.

Winnipeg didn’t come close to tying it. When your team which has struggled lately with shots allowed and double digit chances only permits 18 shots and keeps most to the outside, that is a big time positive. For whatever reason, they play better in front of Raanta. We’ll see what happens when Henrik Lundqvist goes back in tomorrow at Chicago.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Antti Raanta, NYR (17 saves)

2nd Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (primary assist on Hayes’ winner, 5 attempts in 29 shifts-23:50 including 16:13 EV, 4:45 SH, 2:52 PP)

1st Star-Kevin Hayes, NYR (game-winning power play goal with 1:09 remaining, 4 shots, 5 attempts in 25 shifts-16:38 including 12:18 EV, 2:24 SH, 1:49 PP)

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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