The Road Warriors bounce back with 3-2 win over Minnesota


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Road Warriors: Rangers defense gets ready for the Wild in a game they would win 3-2 for an NHL best 26th road win. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers

What a rush! If you heard those three words in the 90’s and even early 00’s, you knew it meant wrestling’s greatest tag team The Road Warriors. Like the intro song that led Hawk and Animal to the ring, it certainly applies to the Rangers who continue to puzzle at home while dominating on the road.

After losing a very winnable game to the Panthers 4-3 in a shootout to increase their winless streak at home to six, they bounced back to defeat the Wild 3-2 in St. Paul, Minnesota tonight. The win was their league best 26th on the road improving them to a ridiculous 26-9-0 away from MSG. At The Garden, they’re basically .500 going 19-15-3.

It’s why I don’t care about home ice. For this team, it’s not an advantage. As long as the Blueshirts stay locked into the first wildcard, they will start the postseason on the road where they’re most comfortable. Considering that they’re at 93 points with 10 games exactly left trailing Columbus by five and Pittsburgh by four with each having two extra games, it looks like they’ll wind up drawing the Atlantic winner which means going through the Atlantic if they can make a run.

With Montreal pulling out a shootout win at Ottawa in the first of a home-and-home, they lead the Senators by two points. The Canadiens have 11 games remaining while the Senators have 12 left. Boston is six out with 11 to go and Toronto pulled back ahead of the Islanders by a point for the final wildcard. Each got a point in overtime losses. The Leafs have 12 left while the Isles have 11. The Lightning remain two behind after losing to the Caps, who finally hit the century mark to go two up on Columbus for the Metro.

The playoff race is heating up. For the Rangers, they seem locked in as the top wildcard a full 14 points up on the Leafs and 15 on the Islanders. They can take solace knowing they know how to win in enemy territory. Where they play a more straight ahead game instead of the fancy pants one that drives fans nuts.

After falling behind on an Eric Staal goal giving him 24 for his new team, they got the next three. Minnesota native Brady Skjei tied the game on a one-timer for his fourth of the season from Mats Zuccarello and Adam Clendening, who came out of the doghouse for an assist replacing healthy scratch Steve Kampfer. I’m not even sure what Kampfer did to get scratched. But at least Clendening got back in and contributed. What would it take for Alain Vigneault to sit Marc Staal out for a game?

It was a standout performance for Oscar Lindberg, who led the way with his sixth goal and a primary helper. Playing with rookies Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich on a more skating fourth line, the improving sophomore pivot showed his worth. In 16 shifts which amounted to only 9:59 of ice-time (why not more?), he was dominant centering the kids. That line scored the final two goals.

Lindberg buried home his sixth off a brilliant backhand feed by J.T. Miller from behind the net to put the Rangers in front at 7:46 of the second period. A play started by Derek Stepan, who was strong defensively throughout despite a mixture of players on his line which included the slumping Rick Nash. Vigneault is pretty desperate to get Nash going. He had both Miller and Chris Kreider take shifts on the line. Still nothing from the most disappointing $7.8 million man in hockey. He’s now without a goal in nine straight and has four since 2/5.

While the coach tries to solve Nash’s inability to finish, at least for one night he discovered a new combination that could make the Rangers tougher to play against. A sharp angle shot from Buchnevich with Lindberg in front was kicked out by Wild starter Devan Dubnyk right to Vesey, who scored his first goal in a month since 2/16. It was his first point of any kind since an assist on 2/26 (10 games). Buchnevich received 9:42 in 14 shifts all at even strength. Vesey took 16 shifts for 11:50 including an extra 1:31 on the power play which went 0-for-3.

If there was a bugaboo that’s plagued this team under different coaches, it’s poor line changes. From Tom Renney to John Tortorella to Alain Vigneault, they continue to take bench minors. Tonight, they were caught twice. The first led directly to Eric Staal scoring after a power play expired. The second allowed Matt Dumba to connect on a Wild power play at 4:51 of the third cutting the deficit to one. A play which couldn’t be reviewed despite Zach Parise making contact with Antti Raanta due to Vigneault having to use his timeout with his players gassed following an icing.

That’s the one sticking point with the coach’s challenge. If you use your timeout, you can’t challenge. Something that makes no sense. Ditto for the offside challenge that take forever to figure out. It slows down the game. They definitely need to make tweaks to the challenge system.

There wasn’t much else going on in the third. Outside of Nash taking Wild leading scorer Mikael Granlund with him following a wrestling match for two minutes, the teams were even in shots 8-8. Despite undisciplined penalties from Minnesota which included an unnecessary chop down from Ryan Suter breaking Marc Staal’s stick in half for an easy slashing call with 2:46 left in regulation, the Rangers were unable to take advantage. Why would they?

The power play was a mixed bag. At times, they were sloppy letting the Wild get shorthanded chances with Raanta forced to make crucial stops. In other instances, they created opportunities but failed miserably. This is who the Rangers are. A flawed, imperfect team with hideous special teams. That is why it’s hard to take them seriously as a contender.

In the playoffs, goals are tougher to come by. That’s where having a halfway decent power play could help. And the penalty kill which started off so positively has been below average for a while.

At least Prince Raanta was there to make 25 saves and get his career high 15th victory. The win came against a fading Minnesota team who hasn’t been the same since taking the lead in the West. They’ve now dropped four straight and six of their last seven with the only win coming against the mediocre Panthers. With the Blackhawks doing what they always do this time of year, they’re suddenly five up on Minnesota for the Central Division.

Maybe it’s a Bruce Boudreau thing. He’s a darn good regular season coach who can’t get it done when it counts. Mr. Haagen Dazs is very likable and is good at breaking down what’s wrong. It’s just whether he can fix it and adjust. The West is wide open. Even up and coming teams like the Oilers and Flames have a shot.

For the Blueshirts, they bankrolled two points in their hip pocket. Now, it’s two days off before a final trip to Newark for the last game against the Devils. Then the Islanders visit Wednesday where they usually play well. What teams don’t at MSG?

Good job out of Dolan raising those ticket prices through the roof for those poor suckers who sit lower than us. No wonder so many are canceling their season subscriptions. What an arrogant, greedy jerk he is. By the time he’s done ripping off loyal fans, there will be none left except us. See. We sit in the final two rows with an obstructed view. So, our seats went up a whole two bucks to $37. It’s not like I go much anyway. I hate the new MSG. It’s got no character or soul left.

A sore subject that will continue in another rant probably when the season ends. For now, there are 10 games remaining. Six on the road and four at home. I got to two. I believe one is the emotional night of the Steven McDonald Award in which our hero will be there in spirit watching over his son Pat present it. I voted for Miller over Michael Grabner. Jesper Fast is also a big candidate. He did what he does best blocking a shot to help protect the lead. Raanta should be in the mix too. Extra Effort!

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-J.T. Miller, NYR (great pass for Lindberg goal-assist, leads team with 52 points but only plays 13:56 including 11:13 ES while Vigneault caters to the vets who don’t produce.)

2nd Star-Brady Skjei, NYR (goal-4th of season, 3 shots, 2 blocks, +1 in 27 shifts-17:25)

1st Star-Oscar Lindberg, NYR (goal-6th, assist-9 points in his last 20 games)

Play of Game: J.T. sets up Oscar

Rangers celebrate another road win

Hometown kid Brady talks about his goal and the team win

Miller discusses the victory and his pass

 

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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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