Grit is something that hockey fans appreciate. The Rangers don’t have your classic guys in that department. They make up for it with heart and determination along with resiliency.
In a back to back situation on short rest with a 5 PM start at TD Garden, they scrapped and clawed their way to a emotional 3-2 overtime win over the Bruins in Beantown. It was by any definition a gritty win by a tired team who traveled after a hard fought 4-2 home win over the Kings less than 24 hours earlier.
In a crazy Metro Division, every point matters. You lose a couple and teams jump over you. You put together two straight good efforts and come out with tough victories as the Rangers did this weekend and you have to feel good about things.
By winning the back to back, the Rangers remained in the first wildcard over the Islanders (OT winners over LA) by virtue of one more ROW. In 33 games, the blood rivals have identical records of 18-12-3 with 39 points. They are two up on the Pens, who got a huge road win at Arizona on a late Olli Maatta goal with 14 seconds remaining. You have the resurgent Flyers winning now and even the Hurricanes have picked it up. Both won Saturday. The Caps lead the division with 43 points on Alex Ovechkin’s 22nd career overtime goal. Then Columbus has 41 due to a 2-1 regulation loss to Carolina. The Devils have 41 too.
Every game counts. While the Atlantic Division is weaker, all eight teams in the Metro believe they have a chance. Only five can make the playoffs. We’re not even at the halfway mark and they’re jockeying for position. It’s insanity.
So when Mats Zuccarello finally shot thru a perfect Chris Kreider screen for a huge OT winner, it was that exciting. A exhausted team found a way to earn the valuable extra point. As I was about to tweet my astonishment at no Rick Nash or Pavel Buchnevich on a four on three power play due to the second Flyers’ bench minor, Zuccarello made it moot by scoring his eighth and then leaping into Kreider’s arms for one great celebration.
Credit to Shayna for the nice gif. She gets all the gifs and posts them. It’s great to have many good contributors from Rangers blogs.
There was no doubt the Rangers were tired during points of yesterday’s game. Why wouldn’t they be? Boston was well rested. They were much sharper in the first period. The Rangers had trouble getting out of their end. It wasn’t surprising.
Alain Vigneault made the wise decision going back to Henrik Lundqvist in a back to back. Throughout his illustrious career, he’s come through. Saturday was no exception with King Henrik delivering the clutch saves (33 overall) including 15 of 16 in a third period onslaught to pick up the victory.
As often is the case, when a team can’t take advantage early of their chances, it’s the opponent who scores first. That being the Rangers. Michael Grabner scored his team-leading 16th from Kevin Hayes and Brady Skjei for the only goal of the first period. He improved his Cy Young campaign to 16-2. If you follow baseball and look at Grabner’s line, you know what I’m talking about. 😜
Where would they be without him? Grabner is gonna make himself a lot of money next summer. Can they keep him at say between $3.5 to $4 million? I don’t know. They’re gonna have to ante up for Hayes and J.T. Miller. Both valuable players who bring a lot to the table. Hayes with his evolvement as a shutdown center and top penalty killer while Miller with a seamless transition from wing to second scoring line pivot who plays power play and wins face offs.
With the salary cap rumored to be going up between $75-80 million, hopefully there’s enough space to keep both. Grabner could wind up elsewhere. With the race so tight, I doubt they’ll trade him. Unless things change drastically in two months, he will remain with the team in a versatile checking role. Still no shorthanded goals for the Blueshirts despite a penalty kill that’s now ranked in the top 10. It’s coming soon. They get a bundle of chances due to diligent work from Hayes, Grabner, Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Jesper Fast and right now Miller, who really is a better penalty killer than injured top center Mika Zibanejad. He continues to recover from a concussion.
The Rangers were better in the second on Saturday. They created more and got a beautiful breakaway goal from the aforementioned Miller. It was a terrific Ryan McDonagh outlet that led a blazing Miller through the neutral zone around the Boston D. He did the rest patiently outwaiting Tuukka Rask by going to a backhand upstairs off a great deke for a 2-0 lead.
But as the period wore on, they started taking ill advised penalties. By the time the night was out, the Rangers killed off six of seven Boston power plays. Most of the calls justifiable even if some were ticky tac. They were lazy. But the penalty kill was big time. McDonagh and Marc Staal in particular did some yeoman’s work. McDonagh was outstanding throughout playing one of his best games of the season. Vigneault heaped praise on the captain.
Skjei was equally impressive recording two assists while playing strong overall despite partner Kevin Shattenkirk’s continued inconsistency. He gets beat a lot outside. He is a excellent puck possession offensive D who runs the power play efficiently. He picked up the primary helper on Zuccarello’s winner.
Up 2-0, Nash had a great chance to make it three but his shorthanded break in failed with one too many moves allowing Rask to make the save as he went way wide. If only he had scored there.
Instead, Boston finally got back in it. Following a Rangers penalty kill, Zdeno Chara had a wide shot redirected in by Danton Heinen to make it 2-1 with 2:48 left in the period. David Krejci helped set it up.
The problem was the Rangers kept taking penalties. They killed off a Miller interference minor at the beginning of the third. But a Skjei hold of Brad Marchand was too much to ask. Marchand converted a perfect David Pastrnak feed from around the net for his 13th to tie the score at 5:38. Ryan Spooner started it and Pastrnak went around Staal and centered for Marchand, who beat Lundqvist. Even though he missed time, the Boston pest is one of the game’s best players. He’s way over a point-per-game.
Of course, I got two underwhelming offers for Marchand in fantasy hockey that I turned down. In a rebuilding year with Marchand not just a rental due to having one more year left on his contract, no way I’m not getting a high draft pick back for him. Draft picks become available at midnight of the New Year. With plenty of good players who can help contenders despite being dead last, I’m open for business on New Year’s Day. With plenty of younger options as keeper assets including Calder candidates Mathew Barzal, Will Butcher and future star Nico Hischier as well as Norris hopeful Zach Werenski in Year 1 and a resurgent Nathan MacKinnon I stole late, I am in good shape for the future.
As far as the rest of the game, the Rangers found their way into overtime. Boston took two ill advised bench minors. How do you take one during three on three in OT on home ice? They did.
With Zuccarello going, Vigneault used his timeout to rest him. When he sent Zucc back out with Kreider, Shattenkirk and somewhat curiously David Desharnais, I was confused why no Nash or Buchnevich. But just as I was about to tweet my complaint on Buchnevich, Zuccarello waited and waited for Kreider to move in front of Rask before finding the hole to surprise Rask at 1:56 to touch off a celebration in front of plenty of Ranger fans who made the trip. They were heard with plenty of “Let’s Go Rangers” chants in enemy territory. Embarrassing for Boston.
Such is how it’s become in most arenas these days. MSG doesn’t even sellout anymore. You can find tickets for any game. The NHL maybe making a lot of revenue due to the outdoor games with the Winter Classic between the Rangers and Sabres coming to Citi Field along with the big centennial game they had Saturday between Ottawa and Montreal. But they’ve priced a lot of fans out.
If we do go, it’ll be fun. I’ll bundle up. Citi Field is nice. I’ve been there once for a Mets game with my buddy Jonathan. I still haven’t been to the new Yankee Stadium. That might change in 2018. Not due to Giancarlo Stanton but Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luis Severino and my favorite current Yankee, Didi Gregorius. We’ll see.
Baseball feels like a long way away. Especially as we get snow that made my trip home a nightmare on Friday. That’s Staten Island for ya. ❄️
In the mean time, I’m going to enjoy every Ranger game in such a competitive and unpredictable division. I had trouble ranking the eight teams in my season preview. Now you know why. It’s sure to be a fun ride.