All season long, we’ve been waiting on that one signature performance from Henrik Lundqvist. He certainly has dealt with a lot more criticism. Given the inconsistency and struggles behind not always a strong defense, the affable 34-year old franchise leader in games, wins and shutouts had a night to remember. He finished with 43 saves to highlight a well earned 4-1 Rangers’ win over the Ducks at MSG.
Lundqvist was great all night. He made every big save in a game that saw possession strong Anaheim out-shoot the Rangers 44-20 and out-attempt them 83-40. Many would say how could they have won. If you haven’t paid attention, our team doesn’t need a lot of shots or chances to score. They are supremely skilled and have great speed that can hurt opponents. Their passing was terrific on all four goals.
It’s not always about Corsi or Fenwick. Tonight, the Rangers protected Lundqvist by defending the front of the net well. They didn’t allow the Ducks to run wild. They protected the house and allowed their goalie to see most of the shots. It won’t go down as a virtuoso performance. Obviously, they didn’t have the puck enough. But they made their shots count scoring four on 20 including three on 19 against John Gibson.
When Anaheim didn’t get shots through, there were plenty of Blueshirts paying the price by getting the jersey dirty. They blocked 23 shots. Somehow, Dan Girardi was only credited with two. I could’ve sworn I counted more. But he had a strong game finishing plus-two in 23:09 including 18:32 at even strength going mostly against the top Anaheim line of Ryan Getzlaf, Richard Rakell and Corey Perry. Girardi’s partner Ryan McDonagh was brilliant blocking a team high five shots while going plus-three in a game high 26:13 including 20:33 even strength.
Both were tremendous on the penalty kill each logging an extra 4:37. That included being forced to kill off consecutive Ducks’ power plays. The defense did a great job as did the forwards with usual suspects Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller leading the way. Despite getting enough shots (8 total), Anaheim went 0-for-4 on the power play. That included a two save sequence from Lundqvist in which he got across to rob Rakell on a great Getzlaf feed and then aggressively challenged Hampus Lindholm knocking the puck out of play to loud cheers and “Hen-rik, Hen-rik!” chants from appreciative home fans.
It was the first time in nearly two months the Blueshirts have won two straight at home. The last came against Carolina on 12/3 and the Devils on 12/11. Maybe this is the stretch where they turn it around. With home dates against Nashville and Colorado on Thursday and Saturday, they can make a statement. Both are winnable.
The game itself demonstrated early that the Ducks would control the possession and shots. They play a tough physical style and are very effective on the forecheck. In the first, Lundqvist faced and stopped all 16 shots fired his way. Anaheim threw them from everywhere. Even though they were out-shot 16-6, it was the Rangers who took a 1-0 lead into the locker room.
Oscar Lindberg got the game’s first goal when he was given a brilliant backhand feed from gifted Russian rookie Pavel Buchnevich in front burying home his second past Gibson at 4:01. Marc Staal picked up a secondary assist. Buchnevich made the play with the no look feed as Lindberg cut to the net for an easy finish.
At the start of the second, the opportunistic Blueshirts got a great shift from Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello leading to a goal from the very popular Zuccarello just 66 seconds in for a two-goal lead. Brady Skjei started the play and then Kreider set up Zuccarello twice. On the first one, he missed. But they stayed with it allowing Zuccarello to notch his 11th from Kreider and Skjei. Although he’s still a project defensively, Skjei has been putting up points. He tallied two assists in the victory.
Before the Ducks got back in it, Gibson made a few timely saves to give his team a chance. He didn’t face as much volume but the Rangers generated some high quality chances. One such opportunity coming from Jimmy Vesey on a Derek Stepan set up that had MSG radio analyst Dave Maloney in shock. Gibson kicked it out.
Anaheim was able to finally get on the scoreboard thanks to Jakob Silfverberg, who was able to beat Lundqvist in front off a quick feed from Andrew Cogliano behind the net cutting it to 2-1 at 6:14. On the play, Skjei was separated from the puck allowing Cogliano to feed Silfverberg for his 16th.
From that point, it was mostly Ducks. They continued to get pucks deep and cycle the Rangers to death. One such shift had both McDonagh and Girardi caught out for a long time. But they were able to get out of trouble with McDonagh skating the puck out. The problem for Anaheim was they couldn’t beat Lundqvist. He was making the key stops and his defense cleared the rebounds. Something that also happened against Calgary in their last home win. If the D continues to make a conscious effort to make life harder on opponents in front, that would be a huge plus.
Skjei took an undisciplined double minor for high-sticking Antoine Vermette. This was an egregious stick foul with Skjei basically using his stick to nearly decapitate Vermette, who thankfully had a visor on but still was bloodied which resulted in a four-minute Anaheim power play. This was a pivotal moment in the game. It was Lundqvist and the penalty kill which got the job done. Some great hustle from Hayes nearly led to another Miller shorthanded goal. He just missed.
After they successfully killed the first 3:22 to stay ahead 2-1 after 40 minutes, the Rangers had no trouble finishing off the final 38 seconds at the start of the third. Stellar efforts were also tuned in by Staal, Nick Holden along with penalty killing forwards Stepan, Rick Nash, Mike Zibanejad and the amazing Michael Grabner. I’ve run out of adjectives to describe Grabner. He has been arguably the best free agent signing of last summer.
When general manager Jeff Gorton gave Grabner a two-year contract worth an average of $1.65 million, nobody blinked an eye. The prevailing thought was he would help the penalty kill immensely and be a nice upgrade on the fourth line. If you had Grabner leading this team in goals with 25 at this point with still two months left, you’re either a liar or completely insane. There’s no question that the former Islander and Leaf brings tremendous speed and defensive acumen to the Rangers’ transition game. He’s a perfect fit under Vigneault, helping the coach win number 600 by scoring twice.
Prior to his first goal which increased the lead to 3-1, the game got a little hectic. A big hit by Anaheim forward Logan Shaw caught Stepan straight from behind shoving him right into the boards by the Ducks bench. Incensed, Nash immediately jumped in with Vesey trading punches with Shaw. Somehow, the refs didn’t view the hit as a penalty. So, they gave Shaw and Vesey coincidental minors. It was a total botch job.
While they discussed the play and got it wrong, Getzlaf did a gentlemanly thing by helping Stepan get up and off the ice. He was sitting down on his bench and grabbed a fallen Stepan pulling him away from the scrum. It’s one of the classiest things I’ve ever seen. It was respectful and the way players should treat players even when it gets heated. I can’t say enough for what Getzlaf did there. As for Stepan, he went to the locker room but returned fast. Vigneault said he didn’t think he even had to go through concussion protocol. If true, he’s lucky. Hopefully, nothing else comes of it.
During the four-on-four, as if by a twist of fate, it was the Rangers who benefited with Miller making a terrific pass to lead Grabner for number 24 at 3:45. Skjei started the play to Miller and he just made a perfect pass that allowed Grabner to come in and beat Gibson for a two-goal lead with 16:15 left.
Even in a period where they had to kill consecutive minors from Kreider (holding) and Hayes (delay of game) a few minutes apart, it didn’t matter. The Rangers had their goalie back. Lundqvist stopped 12 more Anaheim shots en route to the game’s first star.
With the Ducks pulling Gibson for an extra attacker, it was Miller again who made a smart play lifting the puck and making a pass in mid-air right to Grabner at center, who was ahead and scored his 25th into an open net with 19 seconds to go. Hayes also got a helper. It was fitting that he was out with his linemates. That cohesive trio have been largely responsible for why this team has been successful. All strong two-way forwards who have been tremendous at even strength. Twenty-three of Grabner’s 25 goals have come at even strength. The other two are shorthanded and now an empty netter five-on-six.
All in all, a good performance even though they were badly outshot. An area Vigneault wants to improve when the Predators are in town Thursday. As for him becoming the second fastest coach to win 600, he emphasized having good players. Without that, you don’t get far. He certainly has had plenty in Vancouver and now New York.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Michael Grabner, NYR (2 goals-team-leading 24th and 25th for a player who scored a combined 17 the last two years-he’d be my second candidate for the Extra Effort behind J.T.)
2nd Star-J.T. Miller, NYR (2 primary assists-up to 26 helpers for J.T. who is my top candidate for the Steven McDonald Award)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (43 saves incl. 31/32 first 2 periods-more like the King)
Gif of Game: Grabner celebrating the first of two
Lundqvist On His Game:
Grabner talks about his game: