Game #15 The most exciting win in a long time as Rangers stun Canadiens 5-3

How would I describe tonight’s come from behind win over Montreal? Exciting. Amazing. Unreal. Terrific. You can find so many positive adjectives when it comes to their fourth consecutive win. The Rangers played the kind of determined, together and tough hockey they rarely did under Alain Vigneault. This was the best win of the season.

I can’t remember the last time I got so pumped up from a win. The Rangers came back to stun the Canadiens 5-3 at a loud MSG that drew a packed house of 17,428 screaming fans. I’m not the only one. This gem from MSG analyst Steve Valiquette on his way back home.

For so long, we have wanted to see the kinda resilient, in your face hockey we are getting from David Quinn’s Blueshirts. They never give up. Which reminds me of another classic movie reference from the 80’s in a epic scene.

If you don’t believe something is different following the Rangers’ epic rally from a 3-1 deficit in a stirring come from behind victory, then you’re as color blind as most voters on Election Day. Real change comes from within. But in hockey terms, it starts with the coach and how they adjust. Right now at the 15-game mark, Quinn has adjusted well. So has his team, who seem more united than they ever were the past two seasons.

Now 7-7-1 having increased the winning streak to four since Quinn called them out in LA, they have responded remarkably well. Beating the Sabres was one thing. But the way they got off the mat and wore down a tired Montreal club playing the second of a back-to-back following a win in Brooklyn, was impressive. Maybe it’s true they took advantage of opponents who were playing for a second straight night. However, it didn’t come easy against a much improved Habs team with more speed, skill and grit than before.

So when Neal Pionk got caught on a pinch leading to Tomas Tatar beating Henrik Lundqvist five-hole only 23 seconds in with Marc Staal back, it wasn’t the ideal start against the classic rival. I almost forgot why these teams have a holy rivalry that dates back to my Dad’s heyday in the 70’s. This game was a fresh reminder of why. Nevermind the awful refs who made a couple of questionable calls against us. It just toughened up the Rangers, who came together when facing a four minute Montreal power play followed by an abbreviated five-on-three.

They could’ve caved in after Cody McLeod was obviously given too many minutes after he charged defenseman Jeff Petry from behind. Mike Reilly responded by going back to get two for roughing. I’m not sure where they got the four minutes for roughing from, or the misconduct that earned McLeod 16 minutes. What I do know is McLeod was incensed at the Habs for a Max Domi run at Filip Chytil. Domi drew the attention of Marc Staal, who battled the Canadiens’ leading scorer in the first period. Neither McLeod nor Staal were gonna put up with Domi’s crap. That’s the difference under this coach. This team doesn’t back down. Not even following a foolish Brendan Smith minor penalty that handed the Habs a two-man advantage for 43 seconds.

They fought back by killing the penalties with excellent penalty killing and big saves from Henrik Lundqvist. Astonishingly, Montreal had only nine shots on seven power plays. Domi scored their lone power play goal to put them ahead 3-1 following rookie Lias Andersson’s second bad high sticking penalty. Rather than bench him, Quinn sent him back out to redeem himself in his season debut. I don’t think he would’ve seen another shift under Vigneault. Things are different now. The coach talks to his young players after mistakes, and gets his message across.

Andersson was part of a good penalty kill with his hustle leading to Smith leading Vladislav Namestnikov for a shorthanded bid, which Carey Price denied. He also played on a good energy line with Ryan Spooner and Jesper Fast. The cohesive trio forechecked the heck out of the Habs. It was promising. Andersson plays with the edge and grit Quinn likes. I would love to see him stay up even when Brett Howden returns. Why not? It’s not like McLeod should be a regular. Vinni Lettieri works hard, but the reality is he doesn’t bring any offense.

In the first, after trailing by one on Tatar’s early tally, Kevin Hayes worked some magic with Chris Kreider to tie the game. On a great rush, he passed up a shot to try a cross-ice feed that deflected back to him off a Montreal skate. He then passed across for a sweet Kreider finish for his team-leading seventh. During the goal celebration, Kreider pointed back to Hayes for the play.

The game was really a track meet between two young teams trying to establish themselves. Montreal came in with eight wins in their first 13. They already were the talk of hockey along with Vancouver. There was a lot of open ice and skating throughout. In the first, the teams combined for 28 shots with the Canadiens holding a 17-11 edge. Part of that was the way the game was played. The other part was the Rangers took two penalties to give the Habs the game’s first two power plays. Neither of which they could capitalize on. Staal and Domi each got two minute minors after a wrestling match. The goalies were good. They had to be.

In the second, a good shift by Montreal resulted in Tatar getting his second of the game from Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. It was some really good passing down low that allowed Tatar to redirect a Danault pass by Lundqvist for a one-goal lead. On the play, Brady Skjei lost his stick. Smith did a poor job covering for him. McLeod got lost in front on the goal against. Total domination by the Canadiens on that shift.

Andersson then took his second minor for high sticking less than a couple of minutes later. That didn’t end well for the penalty kill. They got caught skating in circles as Gallagher came out from the corner and fed Domi, who patiently outwaited Lundqvist, tucking a backhand in for his ninth. A terrific play for sure, but one that could’ve been prevented. Staal was unable to stop Gallagher and Mats Zuccarello forgot to take Domi backdoor. Just like that, they were down 3-1.

Then came the chaos between McLeod and Reilly, which refs Jean Hebert and Peter MacDougall complicated to loud jeers and some head shaking by Quinn at the bench. I had almost forgotten why I learned to hate Montreal. It’s got nothing to do with their fans, who are awesome and passionate. Everything to do with how they get the benefit of the calls. So does Toronto. But enough about that.

That’s when everything changed. The intensity level was already up to a feverish pitch. It’s the kind of hockey game I wish I was at. But the Montreal game sold. So, we stayed home and watched with the same intensity as the players. It was a really fun game. As good as the first was, the wild and crazy second was even better. Shots favored the Rangers, 13-12. They never got rattled by the penalties with Smith’s really dumb. It could’ve been costly.

Instead, they got everything killed off and then swung the momentum. A Tatar interference minor cancelled out the Smith penalty. During a four-on-four, they got some chances on Price, who was sharp. A Danault hook that took down a relentless Fast gave the Rangers a power play. It looked like they would waste it. They missed Howden, losing key offensive draws that allowed Montreal to clear the zone.

At that point, I was frustrated. But as the power play expired, Tony DeAngelo took a smart wrist shot that went through traffic with both Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey in front, which beat Price to cut it to 3-2 with 2:15 left. Hayes earned the primary assist, and Vesey got a deserved secondary helper. Without him directly in front of Price, that goal doesn’t happen. It really got the crowd going.

Still trailing by one, the Rangers applied all kinds of pressure on a exhausted Habs. They kept forechecking them to death. Eventually, they cracked. Ironically, it was some defensive work by Staal that led directly to the tying goal from a reenergized Pavel Buchnevich. After breaking up a play in front of Lundqvist, Staal worked the puck to Hayes, who was flying all night. He got the puck back to an open Staal at the point. He shot the puck, which Price muffed for a juicy rebound. Buchnevich was in the right place at the right time, depositing it through Price for his fourth goal to tie the score with 11:35 remaining. It was his first goal since returning on Sunday. It had to feel really good. He’s been so much more involved in all aspects. That’s what Quinn wanted. It was great to see.

With the game tied and the crowd into it, an unbelievable shift by the fourth line resulted in a standing ovation. That included McLeod, who I criticized earlier on Twitter. Funny how that works. After he returned, there he was along with a bunch of players battling for a puck against the boards. That included Filip Chytil, who was effective during his shifts. Eventually, McLeod freed the puck and passed to an open Staal for a routine shot that Price gloved to finally get a whistle. It was that good.

Following an obvious Montreal bench minor, Vesey was called for a dubious hook to negate the power play. It was an awful call. His stick accidentally got stuck in Petry. Utterly ridiculous. Vesey could only shake his head in disbelief as he headed to the penalty box.

What happened next was unreal. With the crowd still booing and myself ticked off yelling at the screen, here came Pionk from his own end. He outskated all four Habs, undressing the D and then going to a forehand deke tuck that may as well have hung Price’s jockstrap from the rafters. It was so fantastic that it prompted this electrifying reaction from the always excitable Kevin Weekes on NHL Network.

That is why I love Weekes. He truly is a great guy. He responds to tweets and is so much fun. I must say seeing Pionk pull that off from 200 feet behind his net was crazy. What a game-winner. The easiest assists Kreider and Zibanejad ever picked up.

Montreal still had a chance. But a brain cramp allowed Zibanejad to put the exclamation on the comeback with a shorthanded goal. The puck literally came back to him and he went upstairs on Price for the 5-3 final.

It’s amazing to think that this team is back to .500 (7-7-1). They have far exceeded expectations after the 3-7-1 start. They’re playing so hard for Quinn and forming much better work habits that can make fans proud to cheer for this team. This is an easy team to like. Bring on more excitement!

3 Rangers Stars

3rd 🌟 Marc Staal primary helper on Buchnevich goal, 2 takeaways, plus-three in 28 shifts (19:57)

2nd 🌟 Neal Pionk a goal of the year candidate for his second in two games, plus-two in 34 shifts (25:04) with four blocked shots

1st 🌟 Kevin Hayes 3 assists including 2 primary, 5 shots, 9 attempts, 13-and-17 on draws, plus-three in 29 shifts (21:52)

Notes: Zibanejad leads the team with two shorthanded goals. Good thing I scooped him up for fantasy. Cory Schneider is killing me. It sounds like his team hung him out to dry. … Andersson went 7-and-2 on draws with three shots in 18 shifts (12:17). He definitely looked good. … Shots were 34-32 Montreal with attempts 60-57 Habs. … Lundqvist made 31 saves compared with 27 from Price. … Rangers won the face off battle 35-30 paced by Andersson (7-2) and Zibanejad (12-6). The Habs were led by Andrew Shaw (8-6) with Domi going 9-and-9.

It looks like the Rangers have adopted the Relentless moniker this year that the Devils used last year. Why not?

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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