Game 13: KZB Line sparks third period comeback in 6-4 win over Golden Knights on emotional night for city


It was a Happy Halloween 🎃 for the Rangers thanks to a stirring third period comeback in a much needed 6-4 win over the Golden Knights at a spooky Garden.

The victory likely saved Alain Vigneault’s job for now. He owes the reformed KZB line a steak dinner and a brewski for their performance in the third period. The cohesive trio combined for three goals including Pavel Buchnevich’s game-tying goal and Mika Zibanejad’s game-winning power play goal with 5:49 left in regulation. Chris Kreider started the rally with a beautiful goal when he batted a elevated Zibanejad pass out of midair to get the crowd back in it.

If I were a betting man, Vigneault won’t touch that line again. At least for a while. There’s no assurance that he’ll survive despite a ugly and chaotic two-goal win last night.

On a emotional day for New York City due to a a despicable terrorist attack in midtown that left eight dead and at least 11 injured, the Rangers played the game with heavy hearts.  It’s getting harder to understand why these tragedies keep happening. It’s unacceptable.

For once, the Rangers showed emotion. As disjointed as they were at times against a good Vegas team who peppered Henrik Lundqvist during a number of sequences, they were resilient. In most of the first 13 games, they haven’t quit. They didn’t against Montreal in a tough one-goal loss where they rallied from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits. They sure didn’t on Tuesday giving the kind of committed effort they’ll need to turn it around.

Before the game, MSG held a moment of silence for the victims. It was emotional even for me watching at home. An attack on our city is an attack on all New Yorkers. We stick together during tough times. My prayers and thoughts are with the families of the victims.

For starters, the Rangers didn’t give up the first goal. They actually scored first thanks to a nice centering feed by David Desharnais from behind the net for Jimmy Vesey, who finished his second at 2:45. Ryan McDonagh chipped the puck down to Desharnais who made a perfect pass for the Vesey finish.

But before anyone could get too comfortable, the Golden Knights swarmed Lundqvist with shot after shot on quality chances- forcing him to come up with his best saves of the season. Ask Reilly Smith.

Dave would be correct. Without some brilliant goaltending from Lundqvist, this could’ve gotten out of hand. Several players were guilty of poor defense and no backchecking or boxout. Ryan McDonagh had another rough night along with Brendan Smith, who was so bad that he was glued to the bench by the third. Steven Kampfer was no better getting turned around on by Alex Tuch on a easy blow by to the net that forced Lundqvist into a sprawling save. Marc Staal went to help instead of staying with ex-teammate Oscar Lindberg, who got his fifth to tie it.

Despite good offensive pressure, the Blueshirts spent a lot of time defending a relentless Vegas attack that forced Lundqvist into difficult saves. He did well stopping 14 of 16 against a team that was playing a back to back with fourth string goalie Maxime Lagace. Rather than pepper the inexperienced starter, the Rangers were too cute passing way too much when more shots were required. J.T. Miller especially needs to shoot the puck instead of always thinking pass. He has a good shot and it would cut down on his turnovers (3 giveaways).

The lack of communication between McDonagh and Smith was inexcusable on Smith’s go ahead tally that made it 2-1 in the final minute. They ran around like chickens until Smith put home a rebound from Jonathan Marchessault and Colin Miller. Predictably, they were booed at the end of the period.

Mats Zuccarello started the second in much better fashion by converting off a lucky bounce off Rick Nash’s skate to easily beat Lagace upstairs to even the score at 1:29. Kevin Hayes started it on a good cycle passing the puck off Nash right to Zuccarello, who buried his third.

But the Golden Knights responded once again thanks to Smith obliterating the disastrous top pair of McDonagh and Smith. In particular, Smith who was beaten so much that it was an eye sore. He’s signed for four years and has already been a healthy scratch twice. He needs to get it together soon.

Shots weren’t a problem for the Rangers in the second with them registering 19 in a wild stanza that saw the home team allow 17 for a combined 36. But Lagace was as he got more comfortable making some key stops to keep the Knights up one. In what could’ve been the end for Vigneault, they allowed a clean breakaway to David Perron. Lundqvist twice robbed him with Hasek like saves with him on his back. A penalty shot was awarded. Perron made a great move faking before going five-hole on a visibly frustrated Lundqvist to make it 4-2 with 61 seconds left. He had every right to be with Smith and Kampfer letting the Knights do whatever they wanted. It was embarrassing. Why were they out together?

It would’ve been easy for the Rangers to give up. But they normally don’t despite the defensive deficiencies. They came out and played a heck of a third outscoring a tired Knights 4-0 while outshooting them 15-5.

It took a foolish double minor on Perron for two trips to help them get back in it. They took advantage with Zibanejad leading a great rush that led to Kreider batting his elevated pass in at 5:31 to pull within one. It really was a great play started by Zuccarello with Zibanejad using his splendid skating and vision to find a driving Kreider, who was pumped up. If there is a goal that illustrates what Zibanejad and Kreider are capable of, this was it. It should go on their highlight reel as a friendly reminder.

A few minutes later, Buchnevich took a good Zibanejad feed in front for a tap in that tied the score. Another terrific play started by Zibanejad with Buchnevich in the right spot for his third goal in three games. He’s really blossoming. The second-year Russian has been the most consistent forward. No matter what line he’s on, there’s no denying his impact. It’s why he was miscast on the fourth line. He’s too talented a player for that. Now reunited with Zibanejad and Kreider, Buchnevich has the opportunity to break out. He has always been used in the top power play unit. Rather than 14 and a half minutes, he received 16:57 going 1-1-2 and plus-one.

In some games, the Blueshirts dug themselves an early hole but rallied to tie only to lose in frustrating fashion. This wasn’t one of those nights. A Colin Miller slashing minor gave them a chance to complete the comeback. Zibanejad obliged by taking a Kevin Shattenkirk pass at the left point and firing a laser through a screen for the game-winner with 5:49 remaining. It was another big celebration on a emotional night.

They wouldn’t have stood a chance without 27 big saves from Lundqvist, who moved into sole possession of ninth all-time with his 408th win.

Michael Grabner score into a empty net to seal a well earned victory. Now, they must build on it. They’ll have to back it up when they visit the hottest team in the league in Tampa Bay. They’re currently tied with St. Louis for the league’s best record at 10-2-1. It won’t be easy against a lethal offense led by top two scorers Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. They just put up eight on the Panthers in a wild 8-5 win.

The Rangers have yet to win two in a row. The Lightning present a huge challenge. They’re going to have be a lot better overall to have a shot. That means no defensive lapses or lazy shifts. It should be interesting.

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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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