Game 37: Holden It Down


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Holden It Down: Nick Holden celebrates his game-winner in the third period of a Rangers 4-3 comeback win over the Senators at MSG. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

It’s not always how you start but rather how you finish. For the Rangers, they showed some resiliency rallying from a 3-1 deficit after a period to pull out a hard fought 4-3 win over the Senators at MSG. Nick Holden and Derek Stepan scored twice and Antti Raanta recovered from a tough first to finish with 33 saves as the Blueshirts snapped their first two-game losing streak in regulation.

I can’t comment on the start. By the time I got home, the Sens had scored twice within a 52-second span on goals from Mark Borowiecki <gulp> and Zack Smith. It wasn’t the best period for Raanta, who gave up three goals on 12 shots. But his defense was pinned in for a vast majority of the first two periods. By night’s end, Raanta could’ve easily been selected by the writers as one of the game’s three stars. But his name isn’t spelled Lundqvist. So, his performance was overlooked.

As for Holden, he continues to be a gem. Stolen by Jeff Gorton from Colorado (they still have hockey???) for a fourth round pick, Holden scored what amounted to a big goal when he beat an off balance Mike Condon from a bad angle from Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Hayes.

Trailing 2-1, the Rangers had a bad shift late in the stanza which allowed Cody Ceci to score his first on a point shot that went off Raanta. On the goal, Tom Pyatt did a good job screening in front. The one-time Ranger who is part of an answer to a trivia question having to do with McDonagh was flying all night. The Sens have a lot of speed and it gave our D fits for stretches.

Down by two, enter Stepan to the rescue. When his team was trailing 2-0, he voiced his displeasure on the bench at teammates. Something he discussed between the second and third with Al Trautwig. Hot of late, Stepan continued his surge with two goals in an inspired second period. The first came after a power play expired on a rebound from Chris Kreider and McDonagh.

Prior to Stepan tying it with a beautiful tip in front of Mats Zuccarello slap pass for a power play tally with McDonagh picking up his third helper, Raanta was the story. He made several outstanding saves with none better than the highway robbery he committed on Ceci. He had a wide open net and somehow managed to get his pad across for a remarkable stop that turned the game around. At times, the popular backup was by himself. Similar to a flu-ridden Lundqvist, who may or may not be back for Thursday at Arizona.

This game had a lot of intensity. Between Zuccarello standing up for Brady Skjei after he was driven hard into the boards on a clean check by Chris Neil and Marc Staal getting into it with public enemy number one Dion Phaneuf on an Ottawa power play, it was nice to see the team push back. At some point, enough’s enough. The Rangers aren’t the toughest group. But they can at least stand up for themselves.

They did benefit from a questionable goalie interference when Jean-Gabriel Pageau went hard to the net and crashed into Raanta while trying to score. It’s one of those where if it were our player, we’d be upset over such a call. Not surprisingly, the Ottawa bench was fuming after Stepan scored an identical goal on a tip in to the one he scored last week to tie the game against the Devils which they won. He’s really good at that. Stepan also won the offensive draw. Eerily similar.

For all the criticism he’s received, here is Stepan playing his best hockey while Hayes and J.T. Miller are going through scoring slumps. It’s been the brilliant play of my favorite Blueshirt along with line mates Zuccarello and Kreider that’s been getting it done. Guess who quietly now leads the team in scoring. None other than Stepan with 28 points (9-19-28). He does it without much fanfare. It’s just who he is.

Stepan may not be the best skater. But he knows how to play and his two-way play has picked up too. He, Zuccarello and Kreider have excellent chemistry. I have to give Alain Vigneault credit there for sticking with them. If that line wasn’t producing, the Rangers would be in trouble. Especially with the Jackets and Pens continuing to roll. It’s such a competitive division that when a team behind you like the Caps loses to the Islanders, you breathe a sigh of relief.

With the game still tied, the edginess between the two teams continued. Rookie Jimmy Vesey caught former Blueshirt Derick Brassard from behind with a tough hit that had him down for a little bit. Mark Stone stood in for Brassard challenging Vesey to his first fight. For a kid who was a Hobey Baker winner at an Ivy League school, he did okay standing in there taking his lumps while throwing back. Even in a game where he wasn’t a factor, Vesey continues to impress.

Thirteen seconds after the scrap, Kyle Turris hooked Miller from behind to hand the Rangers a 5-on-4 power play. Even though they didn’t connect, the momentum from it carried forward. On great hustle from Skjei, who kept a puck in and chipped it down, it led to Holden’s second of the game. He sneaked around the net and slipped a wrap around past an unassuming Condon for the game-winner at 6:31 right after the power play expired. A smart play from a smart player who now is up to six goals which leads all Ranger defensemen.

Ottawa challenged for offside. Thinking Matt Puempel might’ve been off, it was a good challenge from Boucher. They had to go back towards the start of the play to check. Something you’re allowed to do in what’s become an awkward and unpredictable challenge system. Puempel did a great job keeping one skate on the blue paint to stay on. One replay was enough for me to say good goal. It didn’t take long for ref tandem Wes McCauley and Pierre Lambert to agree.

The Sens definitely got their attention. They had the final two power plays on minor penalties from Michael Grabner (hook) and Zuccarello (trip). But the penalty kill came up large. They went four-for-four with Hayes and Miller continuing to do some splendid work shorthanded. Miller had a chance but was stopped by Condon. Miller also tried to back pass to Hayes on another try but missed connection. It wasn’t the smartest of plays.

Raanta made the Rangers’ only lead stand up by making the final 24 saves. He was flawless in the second stopping all 14 and perfect in the third denying 10 more shots. A great response from a team first guy who was called upon after Lundqvist was out sick. Brandon Halverson backed up.

This was a good character win. They proved they could overcome Ottawa’s trap which gave them problems in the first. They overcame mistakes to come back and win. They can thank Raanta for some big time goaltending in the momentum swinging second where Stepan backed up his words. And no. I can’t believe Trautwig compared Stepan to Messier. Holy mackerel.

The game came down to Brassard, who earlier in the period had an unlucky shot ring off the crossbar and goalpost on a power play. He had a great chance to tie it with six seconds left but a diving Jesper Fast blocked his attempt leaving only a second left.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Nick Holden, NYR (2 goals-5th, 6th, 2 shots, 4 attempts, 3 hits, 2 blocks, +1 in 32 shifts-21:23 including 16:36 ES, 3:06 SH, 1:41 PP)

2nd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (2 goals-8th, 9th, 4 shots, 5 attempts, +1 in 34 shifts-21:36 including 15:09 ES, 4:21 PP, 2:06 SH)

1st Star-Antti Raanta, NYR (33 saves incl. stopping final 24 for big win)

Notes: Smith left the game in the second after scoring a goal. … The difference in the game was between the goalies. Condon gave up some costly goals allowing four on 25 shots. Raanta got stronger and made some momentum turning saves. … Ottawa out-shot the Rangers 36-25 and out-attempted them 60-48. … Key stat: Giveaways Sens 11 Rangers 17. … Ottawa went 41-and-29 on face-offs with Brassard a beastly 18-and-7. Oscar Lindberg went 8-and-7 for the Blueshirts. … Ottawa out-shot the Rangers 27-12 at five-on-five scoring three goals on 27 shots while the Rangers scored twice on 12 shots. The other Rangers’ two goals came on a power play and four-on-four.

GIF of Game: What else but Holden’s winner and the reaction of the crowd.

Media: Raanta discussing the win with reporters.

METRO RACE

1.Blue Jackets 33 GP 24 W 5 L 4 OT 52 Points 22 ROW

2.Penguins      36 GP 23 W 8 L 5 OT 51 Points 21 ROW

3.Rangers         37 GP 24 W 12 L 1 OT 49 Points 22 ROW

*4.Capitals      33 GP 20 W 9 L 4 OT  44 Points 19 ROW

*5.Flyers          36 GP 20 W 12 L 4 OT 44 Points 16 ROW

6.Hurricanes   33 GP 15 W 11 L 7 OT  37 Points 13 ROW

7.Islanders       34 GP 14 W 14 L 6 OT  34 Points 13 ROW

8.Devils             35 GP 13 W 15 L 7 OT   33 Points 11 ROW

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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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