A Review of a memorable Game 4: Smith and Skjei play unlikely heroes in thrilling Rangers 3-2 overtime win over Sharks

It’s a lot different when you have lower expectations. After the Rangers imploded in a nightmarish third period of a 8-5 loss to the improved Hurricanes, they had a few days off before one of the league’s scariest teams in the loaded Sharks paid a visit to The Garden last night.

I would be lying if I thought they could win against Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and a lethal Sharks offense that features Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Timo Meier and area local Kevin Labanc. You get the picture. So daunting is this San Jose roster that even without a cleanly shaven Joe Thornton, the match up was worrisome. It’s funny because when my brother got home, he told me he thought they would win. Maybe he just had a sixth sense.

It was the way the Rangers won that was shocking. After being totally outplayed for two periods, they rose up with a great third to tie the game and win it 3-2 on Brady Skjei’s goal at 37 seconds of overtime. The celebration that followed was unbelievable. You would’ve thought they won the Cup. That’s how much excitement surrounded getting new coach David Quinn’s first NHL win. It’s clear that the players love him. The strong quotes from several players including the game’s number one star, Henrik Lundqvist tell you everything. He was sensational in making 41 saves. It was the kind of performance that made you smile. The 36-year old proud netminder showed the San Jose shooters he still has something left.

In a very fast paced game that featured several odd man rushes for the Sharks, the Rangers were under siege. They were outshot 33-13 following the second period. The attempts were in large favor of the teal. I think it wound up 80-50. That didn’t matter. What did is how hard this team competed in the third period to find the tying goal from unlikely hero Brendan Smith with 2:39 remaining in regulation. They never quit. They may not be the most talented, but the effort was why the Garden sounded louder than at any point last year.

It had to feel extra special for Smith to score off a beautiful backhand pass from Pavel Buchnevich at 17:21. Think about how bad last season was for him. Fresh off a new contract, he came into camp out of shape and performed terribly in games. Eventually, they put him on waivers where he cleared and finished a disappointing season with Hartford. He knew it was do or die this Fall, coming to camp in much better shape. Even Team President Glen Sather said that he didn’t recognize him when he saw him up close during a fan forum.

Smith has worked hard to get back in the lineup. I’m sure he’ll savor that moment. He made a great pinch to score on a perfect one timer from Buchnevich and emerging leader Jesper Fast. Fast has been involved in almost everything positive thus far. It’s nice to see the hard work paying off. He has a goal and three assists in four games. It doesn’t matter where Quinn puts him. He rubs off on teammates.

Skjei’s overtime winner was something else. Let’s just call it sheer determination. Following a San Jose turnover, he skated out of the zone and lead a two on one. Rather than pass, he surprised Sharks goalie Aaron Dell with a good shot that beat him, touching off a celebration along the boards. The cheers they heard from the fans was great. They sure deserved it. It’s only one win. But to hear Mats Zuccarello tell it, it meant plenty. He spoke about how much they wanted to win for Quinn in the locker room afterwards. Something that was repeated by teammates.

It would’ve been really easy to lose. At one point, the shots were 13-3 in the first. The weird thing was the Rangers created a few scoring chances in transition, but were unable to hit the net. The best one came from Vladislav Namestnikov. In the doghouse early, he played a strong game. He may have been on the fourth line with Filip Chytil and Vinni Lettieri, but the Russian forward was very active during his shifts. He made plays defensively and was much more noticeable offensively. On a two on one, Chytil centered for a cutting Namestnikov for what would’ve been a tap in. But it just missed connection. I really liked how he played. That’s more like it.

San Jose struck first on a shorthanded goal from Marcus Sorensen. A Skjei turnover allowed Sorensen to come the other direction with speed. He completely outskated two Blueshirts before whistling a laser top shelf by a shocked Lundqvist. It was a terrific individual effort. Also embarrassing for the Rangers power play.

Despite getting severely outplayed, the Rangers found the equalizer thanks to an amazing effort from surprising rookie Brett Howden. On a good shift with new linemates Zuccarello and Chris Kreider, he somehow scored his second of the season when he took a no look backhand shot between his legs that tricked Dell. It truly was unreal. Howden continues to impress with his play. He always is around the puck, and is one of the team’s best forecheckers. I liked Quinn mixing it up by bumping up Howden. He rewarded him unlike a previous coach.

San Jose didn’t have many power plays. But on one, the potent combo of former Norris winners Burns and Karlsson created some dangerous opportunities. The puck wizardry between the two lethal right shot defensemen is going to cause headaches for the rest of the league. On one such play, they played catch before Karlsson passed across for a deadly Burns one timer that Lundqvist got across on to stop. Burns has one of the hardest and most accurate shots. He also sent another shot high and over the top making a loud sound off the glass. Karlsson tried a shot from the right circle which Lundqvist swallowed.

It’s crazy to think they also have Vlasic on that blueline. Not to mention some dangerous shooters up front. Pavelski isn’t what he once was, but he was in a primary scoring position when his high labeler from the left circle was gloved down by a sharp Lundqvist.

San Jose went ahead again on another turnover. A Kreider shot was stopped by Dell, who got it to his defense. That one shot trapped three Rangers including Tony DeAngelo and Zuccarello. With Chytil unable to get on the ice due to a slow change, it was five on four. With only Adam McQuaid back on a three on one, that made it easy for Antti Suomela to get the puck across for an easy one timer from Joonas Donskoi upstairs from Burns. It was the only Sharks goal in a lopsided second that saw them outshoot the Rangers 16-9. I took a look at the attempts and it was very onesided. I couldn’t help but laugh. At least they weren’t the woeful Giants, who were busy humiliating themselves on Thursday Night Football against the hated Eagles.

The rest of the game was different. Like he has so many times before, Lundqvist gave his team a chance to steal it. They didn’t waste the third. Taking it to the Sharks, they began to force Dell into some difficult saves. With Lundqvist taking care of his side, it gave them enough confidence to finally tie the game.

Off a good cycle from Fast behind the net, Buchnevich came out with the puck and made a nice backhand pass for a cutting Smith, who finished for an emotional game tying goal with 2:39 left.

When it reached three on three, I wondered what the chances were they could win versus the Sharks. I pictured it being like Jim Carrey’s Lloyd character in Dumb and Dumber when he asks Mary (Lauren Holly) what his chances were at the end. She says, “More like one out of a million.” And he responds in classic form. Oh hell. I’ll link it up. It’s too appropriate not to.

This time, the underdog prevailed. Thanks to some hustle from Zuccarello defensively, Skjei played the hero on Broadway with an end to end goal with Zuccarello falling down and sliding by Dell as Skjei’s shot beat him. It was a great win. Now, they’ll turn the page to the Connor McDavid Oilers for a 1 PM Saturday matinee. Kevin Shattenkirk will be back. We don’t know who will be out. DeAngelo struggled in his second game. He could be a candidate due to Fredrik Claesson playing well in his Rangers debut.

Marc Staal stuck up for a teammate by not putting up with Kane’s crap. They received matching roughing minors. It was nice to see Staal do that. Nobody ever recognizes that he plays with necessary edge, battling opponents in the trenches. He took the Sharks leading scorer off the ice. A good job from the veteran leader.

Following the win, the players presented Quinn with the puck. He said he wished he could divide it up into 45 pieces. It was a special moment.

Three Rangers Stars 🌟

1st 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist 41 saves

2nd 🌟 Brendan Smith game tying goal

3rd 🌟 Brett Howden 2nd goal

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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