McDonagh’s pair and Stepan ends drought in Rangers 4-1 win over Red Wings


The scoreboard of Joe Louis Arena reads Rangers 4, Red Wings 1 in what was the final game they’ll play there. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

The final game at Joe Louis Arena was a happy one. The Rangers came away with a satisfying 4-1 victory over the hapless Red Wings in what is sure to be the first season there won’t be any playoffs since ’88-89. All great streaks must come to an end. For the Winged Wheel, it’ll be about ping pong balls in an NHL lottery featuring top prospects Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It was a game that brought back memories of playoffs past. Both American leaders Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan scored. The captain recorded his second career two-goal game scoring shorthanded and at even strength. He became the first Rangers defenseman to score twice with one shorthanded since Michal Rozsival in ’07. That should make some of our Jekyll & Hyde fans all warm and fuzzy. 😉

The bigger story is Stepan, who finally ended his 23-game goal drought by scoring on the power play to put an exclamation point on the Rangers’ NHL-leading 25th road win. He had been getting close the past few games missing a chance point blank and clanging the post in a frustrating one-goal loss at Carolina. Since Alain Vigneault reunited Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello with him, Stepan has been playing better. Fittingly, his power play goal came on an assist from old USA buddy Kreider. He shanked it but such is the case when you finally get one. Well deserved.

It really was all about the Americans for the Blueshirts. Kevin Hayes had a goal and assist while sidekick J.T. Miller set up his 17th late in the second to give the team a two-goal lead against a fragile defensive team. The Red Wings make our defense look like world beaters. They cannot defend at all. They had some sloppy turnovers and blown coverages resulting in Ranger goals.

Detroit didn’t help Petr Mrazek at all. He was basically by himself. That resulted in four goals on 31 shots. None of which he stood a chance. The Rangers took full advantage of some big mistakes. That’s what the Red Wings have become. Not much different from what I saw from another former perennial team that resides in Newark in a dreadful first period during a one-goal loss to lowly Arizona.

The Rangers took what they were given. With Steven Kampfer off for tripping, a strong defensive play by McDonagh trapped two Red Wings. Michael Grabner handed off for Hayes, who had all sorts of time and space with Mike Green backing off on a poorly executed switch. Hayes calmly pushed a backhand pass in front for a cutting McDonagh, who beat Green to the spot for the tip in for a shorthanded goal at 19:33. It was McDonagh’s first goal in 11 since a 2-1 home win over the Caps on 2/19.

Making his first start since Henrik Lundqvist went down with a hip strain, Antti Raanta was cool, calm and collected. He finished with 23 saves in picking up his career best 14th win of the season. With the first of four sets of back-to-backs, Vigneault has hinted that Raanta will see the bulk of the action. Why not? He’s one of the most dependable number two goalies in the game. It’s any guess whether Raanta becomes the Las Vegas starter following the season. But he along with Lundqvist give the Rangers a formidable 1-2 punch.

The one goal Raanta allowed he had no chance on. With Marc Staal off for a weak call for ‘elbowing,’ the Red Wings made some great passing resulting in a nice one-time and a bang from ex-Islander Frans Nielsen to tie the game on the power play at 5:35 of the second period. The passing was started by Justin Abdelkader and then Gustav Nyquist, who threaded the needle to Nielsen for his 14th.

But in a period where they didn’t play that badly, Detroit fell apart late. They allowed two consecutive goals in a 37-second span. The first one came on an awful turnover by Tomas Tatar. It led to McDonagh getting three chances. With help from Pavel Buchnevich and Staal behind the net, they dug out the puck and put it back in front for an easy McDonagh finish for his second of the game. It was only Staal’s sixth assist of the season. But always nice to see the much maligned gritty vet contributing. He got his nose dirty. Buchnevich picked up a helper too.

Leading by one, the Rangers exposed some poor defense by Detroit in transition. Grabner led Miller into the Red Wing zone. It was basically a two-on-two. But Abdelkader got lost in coverage allowing Hayes an easy lane to the net. That resulted in a bullet pass across from Miller for an easy Hayes slam dunk making it 3-1 with 2:33 to go. Grabner already making a difference recording a pair of assists in his return. No coincidence that Hayes and Miller looked better and got on the score sheet.

The Blueshirts took a couple of early minor penalties in the third. One by former Red Wing Brendan Smith (delay of game) and the other by Stepan (high-stick). It didn’t matter. After a couple of close calls on the first power play, Detroit did nothing on the second. In fact, they only got seven total shots on Raanta in the period.

It was a bad penalty by Dylan Larkin for tripping in the offensive zone that finally led to Stepan’s first goal since 1/17. The Red Wings again overplayed and were exposed when Kreider came out in front and was able to dish across for a wide open Stepan, who finally got one to go for lucky number 13 at 16:01 to the bench’s excitement. It was fitting that it would be Kreider, who would get the puck to Stepan. They’ve played together since teaming to win a gold medal at the IIHF U20 World Junior Championship. Mats Zuccarello notched a helper.

They did what they had to do. Picked up two points against a bad team that’s headed for a rebuild. Detroit will play in a new arena next season. Who knows when they’ll be a playoff caliber team again. It could be a while.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Michael Grabner, NYR (2 assists in return, 3 shots, +2 in 22 shifts-15:52)

2nd Star-Kevin Hayes, NYR (goal-17th, assist, +2 in 22 shifts-14:48)

1st Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (2nd career 2-goal game-4th, 5th including team’s 9th SHG, +2 in 26 shifts-22:25)


Notes: Shots were 31-24 Rangers and attempts were 47-43 Red Wings with the hosts missing the net 16 times. Teams only combined for 14 blocked shots (7 each). … Rangers led in hits 26-19 paced by Tanner Glass (6), who quietly had an effective game forcing a couple of turnovers that caused Rangers scoring chances. … Staal had one of his better games finishing plus-two with a helper in 23 shifts (19:34) while paired with McDonagh. … Kampfer also had a solid game drawing a retaliatory penalty on a clean hit and trusted enough to log 15:11 in 22 shifts going plus-one while working with Brady Skjei. … Key Stat: Giveaways NYR-6 DET-11. … Face-offs went to the Red Wings 25-22 paced by Nielsen (9-and-4). Oscar Lindberg went 5-and-3 for the Blueshirts, who return home to host the Lightning Monday before the traditional March blizzard. Be safe!

A very pleased Stepan talks about finally scoring to end his drought and going to old pal Martin St. Louis for advice:

The winning netminder Raanta talks about “playing more” with a grin:

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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