Game #20: Kreider and Lundqvist star in bounce back 4-2 win over Panthers

David Quinn wants his team to respond to criticism following ugly losses like the one to the Islanders on Thursday. The Rangers showed the same resiliency that’s defined the season, posting a hard fought 4-2 home win over the Panthers at MSG.

Through 20 games, a team picked by many to finish last in the division and be a lock for a top five pick, has a record of 10-8-2. They’ve done it by continuing to persevere under Quinn, who won’t tolerate soft play like we saw the other night. The demanding first-year coach sat out defenseman Brady Skjei after a poor effort from a young player making $5.2 million on average. No matter who you are, you will be made an example of if this coach doesn’t think you’re giving consistent effort. We’ve seen his message get through to Kevin Shattenkirk, Pavel Buchnevich and countless others, who found themselves missing shifts due to ineffective play.

What Quinn has been able to establish in the first quarter has been remarkable. He has changed the attitude and mentality by having higher standards. These Blueshirts won’t give in. Even when they aren’t always clicking on all cylinders in wins like tonight, they will work their tails off, scratch and claw.

In came Brendan Smith and out went Skjei. Wouldn’t you know it? Smith scored a goal in his return. It was a important one because it tied the game at two, in direct response to Aaron Ekblad’s power play goal with Vinni Lettieri off for interference. The penalty earned him a seat on the bench for an extended stretch. He only played 4:29 in nine shifts. Look for him to become the odd man out if Mats Zuccarello returns Monday. He missed his fourth game in the last five on Saturday night.

Newly acquired Ryan Strome made his Broadway debut on the third line with Brett Howden and Jimmy Vesey. Wearing number 16, which is Derick Brassard’s old number, he took 21 shifts for 16:42 all at even strength. He registered four hits and went 3-and-2 on face-offs. It’s not a bad suggestion to give him a look on the third line due to more skill than Jesper Fast, who replaced Zuccarello on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Vladislav Namestnikov.

If Zuccarello can play tomorrow, I wouldn’t mind seeing Fast slide down to the fourth line to work with Lias Andersson and Cody McLeod on a grind line. McLeod also didn’t see much ice-time receiving 6:17 in 11 shifts, but had six hits and went plus-one. Andersson set up Smith’s tying goal in the first period for his first point since being called up. He wound up with 13 shifts (6:42) with a plus-one and was 2-for-5 on draws.

It was another big night for Chris Kreider. The emerging leader posted a three-point game scoring his team-leading 11th goal and adding two assists to hike his point total to a club best 19 in 20 contests. This is the best hockey of his career.

Rookie Filip Chytil stayed hot scoring the game’s opening goal at 3:03 of the first on a nice feed from Kevin Hayes. He was able to beat Roberto Luongo from a sharp angle short side to become the first Rangers teenager to score in three consecutive games. He was moved onto the Hayes line with Kreider as I suggested. They were by far the team’s best line.

The early lead didn’t last long. Mike Hoffman continued his torrid play by ripping a perfect one-timer off a Evgenii Dadonov centering pass by Henrik Lundqvist at 4:40. The former Senator would later add an assist in taking his Panthers’ new franchise record point streak to 15 in a row.

With Lettieri in the penalty box, Ekblad drove a laser over Lundqvist from the point on a nice set up from Mike Matheson. Hoffman picked up the secondary helper. It was the third straight game Ekblad scored in.

However, with Quinn opting to double shift Kreider in place of Lettieri on a shift with the fourth line, he combined with Andersson to find Smith open for a shot that beat Luongo high to the short side from another weird angle. The future Hall of Famer had a bad game allowing a couple of soft goals. He struggled to cover shots to the stick side, allowing four goals on 24 shots. In his two outings this weekend, he gave up 10 goals on 60 shots.

Only one goal was scored in the second. It was another of the odd variety with Namestnikov sneaking a seeing eye shot off a Zibanejad face-off win off Luongo and just over the goal line. The puck took a funny hop high in the air where Luongo couldn’t control it. The referee on the back of the net made no hesitation, indicating a goal for Namestnikov. Following a video review, they confirmed the call on the ice giving Namestnikov a deserved reward with his second goal for a 3-2 Rangers lead.

The Panthers certainly had their chances. They applied pressure throughout. However, a sharp Lundqvist was up to the tall task. He made big saves in the final two periods, turning aside all 28 shots he saw. Florida outshot New York 28-12 in the second and third. Overall, they held a 41-24 edge and out attempted the Blueshirts 79-47. That didn’t matter further to the brilliance of Lundqvist, who made 39 saves en route to passing Jacques Plante for seventh all-time in wins with his 438th. Next up is Terry Sawhuk in sixth with 445.

In the third, Kreider put it away by scoring a nice power play goal off the rush. After Chytil drew a tripping minor on Vincent Trocheck, Lundqvist started the play with a outlet for Neal Pionk. His pass for Kreider in the neutral zone trapped two Panthers, allowing Kreider to cut in and Beat Luongo top shelf to the short side at 7:56. A well executed simple play that worked.

Next up are the Stars. Then the Islanders visit MSG on Turkey Eve for a rematch.

Three Rangers Stars

3rd 🌟 Brendan Smith goal (2nd), 5 attempts, 4 blocked shots, +1 in 25 shifts (20:28)

2nd 🌟 Henrik Lundqvist 39 saves including 28/28 last 2 periods for 438th career win passing Jacques Plante for seventh all-time

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider goal (11), two assists, 2 shots, 5 attempts, 2 takeaways, 2 hits, +2 in 24 shifts (15:11)

A nice touch by MSG to recognize Larry Brooks following his induction.

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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