Two days after wasting a great performance from Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers rebounded by winning their sixth straight home game. A straight forward 3-0 domination of the Senators before a happy crowd at MSG. They played well in front of the King, who pitched his 63rd career shutout by making 20 saves.
The two-game losing streak is history. Coach Alain Vigneault gets credit for putting together a good game plan. Healthy scratching a ineffective David Desharnais and tweaking the third and fourth lines with one of my suggestions, he was able to roll all four while using three effective D pairs. For once, everything was in sync. Partially due to a tired Sens playing a back to back with travel. But that doesn’t excuse them for a lethargic showing that drew the ire of captain Erik Karlsson.
Vigneault reconstructed the lines. The top unit of KZB stayed intact. Kevin Hayes centered Rick Nash and Jesper Fast. J.T. Miller shifted to center while Michael Grabner moved up to the third line with Mats Zuccarello. Rookie Boo Nieves was on the checking line with Paul Carey and Jimmy Vesey, who still played a pivotal role on one of the goals while getting 3:14 of his 12:17 of ice time on the power play.
For a second straight game, the D stayed the same. Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden paired up while Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk remain a thing. Marc Staal and Brendan Smith were the third tandem until Smith’s ejection on a controversial interference major on a huge hit that injured Senators’ defenseman Mark Borowiecki in the third period.
As expected, goals were hard to come by in a tight checking first where the Rangers had the edge in play outshooting Ottawa 10-7. Craig Anderson made some key saves early including a flat out denial on Nieves, who Vesey set perfectly up off a strong cycle. Anderson had won three in a row at MSG in the regular season. He also bested Lundqvist in last Spring’s Eastern Conference Semifinal showdown.
So, it wasn’t too surprising that the action was dull. Ottawa plays that defensive system under evil comic book character Guy Boucher. It stifles creativity. How soon before Matt Duchene realizes it’s a bad fit. He failed to register a point again. Since being acquired, he has no points and is minus-six. Hardly a upgrade over Kyle Turris thus far.
The second was the tell tale sign that the Rangers were clearly superior. That extra day off to prepare helped. They were strong defensively at limiting the Sens to the perimeter. They also were strong in the neutral zone and generated a consistent forecheck in the Ottawa end.
Eventually, it resulted in the game’s first goal. It’s funny how Sam Rosen mentioned to Joe Micheletti how he thought the first goal might be important. That’s what makes him so great. He has been around long enough to give a good insight on how the game’s being played.
Sure enough, some good work down low by Vesey and Fast resulted in Hayes sniping his fifth past Anderson top shelf at 4:46. Vesey threw a shot that deflected off a Senator right to Fast who centered for Hayes, who made no mistake. Just think if he used that shot more. He’s coming around. The increased defensive role is making him a better player. His penalty killing was vital later.
The Senators played a bad game hardly attacking enough to make Lundqvist sweat. When they did get shots through, he saw them. They also were lazy handing the Rangers a couple of power play chances to break it open. But they were unable to cash in for a third game in a row. It could’ve come back to bite them. But they played a complete 200 foot game.
The kind that produced sustained attacks which led to a Grabner tip of a Staal point shot from Zuccarello for a 2-0 lead at 4:52 of the third. Staal did a good job on that shift keeping the play alive. Zuccarello got the puck to him for the shot which Grabner redirected for his ninth. A splendid bit of a teamwork.
Prior to his goal, Lundqvist came up big when he denied Derick Brassard on the doorstep with a stack of the pads to kick out a rebound. The kind of save that’s made him a future Hall of Famer and one of the greatest Rangers.
Even when the Sens were handed a golden opportunity to get back in it, they couldn’t muster anything. In a race for a puck behind Lundqvist’s net, Smith came together with Borowiecki. At first glance live, it looked like Smith’s intention was to hit the attacking Senator defenseman and not play the puck. That’s probably what Tim Peel saw. Borowiecki didn’t anticipate getting crushed. He wound up on his back for a few minutes.
Smith was given the gate for a interference major with 12:28 remaining. The crowd booed showing their displeasure. They probably saw the replay before MSG showed it. Once it was shown, it was painfully obvious that both players were going for hits with the puck in the vicinity. Smith just beat Borowiecki to it with a clean shoulder. It was sad to see. But that’s hockey sometimes.
They made the wrong call. At most, it was a minor penalty for interference. It didn’t matter. The Rangers had to pick up a teammate for five minutes and did so in such a assertive fashion that it made you proud. The work of Hayes, Nash, Grabner, Fast, Staal, McDonagh, Skjei, Holden, Zibanejad and Zuccarello was masterful. They played with the kind of snarl that has often been missing. It was nice to see.
Zibanejad added a empty netter for his team best 10th with 2:29 left from Zuccarello and Chris Kreider. When the buzzer sounded, Lundqvist had his shutout to chants of “Hen-rik! Hen-rik!”
BONY 3 Stars ✨
3rd Star ⭐️ Brady Skjei 2 shots in 4 attempts, 2 takeaways, 2 hits, 6 blocks, +1 in 27 shifts-23:01 including 3:18 SH
2nd Star ⭐️ Kevin Hayes 5th of season, 2 shots, +1 in 21 shifts-15:24 including 3:22 SH
1st Star ⭐️ Henrik Lundqvist 20 saves for shutout number 63