Happy Birthday 🎂 Alexandar Georgiev! I mean really. What else could the just turned 23-year old rookie goalie have done in carrying the Rangers to a surprising 4-1 win over the mighty Maple Leafs to conclude a homestand?
Georgie was spectacular. On his birthday, he treated himself to a incredible 55 saves to turn the Leafs away at a way too loud Toronto contingent at The Garden. There are many other adjectives to describe his performance. Brilliant, super and unconscious are three that fit.
Good for him. I’ve seen quite a few unappreciative fans claim that Georgiev sucks. Maybe the only thing that sucks is their utter ignorance for just how hard it is for both goalies to play on a nightly basis with a roster that gives up way too many shots and quality chances. On a night Henrik Lundqvist got another break before the team flies out to play at Winnipeg on Wednesday, Georgiev had to deal with some bad penalties.
Facing a scary Leafs power play, he was the team’s best penalty killer, as coach David Quinn summed up. As crazy as it sounds, Toronto got 23 shots on goal in four power play chances. That included a ridiculous seven on their first that followed leading scorer Mika Zibanejad striking for his 23rd goal just 28 seconds in on a follow up past Toronto backup Garret Sparks. A play set up by linemates Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider.
Leading early, they were tested immediately following a Brendan Smith minor for tripping at the 2:26 mark. It was a shooting gallery for a laser focused Georgiev, who turned aside John Tavares and Nazem Kadri a lot during the game. Kadri led all skaters with 12 shots followed by eight from Tavares, including a point blank opportunity in the third that had him staring at the ceiling.
That’s how dialed in Georgiev was. At one point in the first period thanks to a unnecessary Kreider minor in the offensive zone, the Leafs led in shots 22-6. By the end of the period, the Rangers had closed within 22-14. At five-on-five, they didn’t play too badly. Even on the second of a back-to-back, the Leafs wound up with 33 of their 56 shots at even strength. But the Rangers did a solid job by getting 27 of their 30 shots at even strength. That included all four goals.
Ironically, it was a rare mistake that allowed Kasperi Kapanen to tie it with a unassisted goal at 10:35. An errant Tony DeAngelo pass came out of the zone right to Kapanen, who made a good move and shot for the only blemish on Georgiev.
However, following a successful kill of a Kreider interference minor, he came out of the penalty box and was directly involved in Jimmy Vesey’s first goal in 10 games. Ryan Strome fed Kreider, who cut in and perfectly set up a wide open Vesey for a laser top shelf past Sparks for his 12th at 14:05. He’s been getting chances the past few games, but it hasn’t been going in. Finally, he ended a nine-game drought. Vesey has been better since Quinn moved him up to a line with Kevin Hayes and Pavel Buchnevich.
The Leafs onslaught continued in a crazy second that remained scoreless thanks to more clutch stops from Georgiev. He denied all 17 Toronto shots while facing several more on consecutive power plays before the halfway mark.
Frustration boiled over for Leafs forward Zach Hyman, who responded to a incidental Neal Pionk hit that knocked down top scorer Mitch Marner. He challenged and Pionk accepted. It wasn’t much of a fight. They both served five-minute majors despite some mild protests from Rangers fans. Pionk was back in as a seventh defenseman replacing Vinni Lettieri. He took DeAngelo’s place on some shifts with Marc Staal late in regulation due to DeAngelo having a off night.
Despite getting outshot 39-23 through two periods (56-30 overall), the Blueshirts competed hard during each shift. They stayed out of the penalty box in the final period.
Georgiev continued to baffle the Leafs, who fired 17 more shots on net without any success. Even with the annoying “Go Leafs, Go!” chants from what was a embarrassing amount of Toronto supporters, it didn’t matter. They got nothing. That included a point blank opportunity for Tavares with a perfect rebound that Georgiev got across on to stone him. A remarkable save by the Bulgarian backup that got more support from appreciative fans.
On some good work by Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid added the big insurance marker with 9:01 remaining. His point shot changed direction past Sparks at 11:59 for his second goal in the last four games. A nice reward for a hard working player, who likely will be moved soon along with Zuccarello and Hayes.
Speaking of which, some solid defensive play allowed Hayes to match his jersey number with an empty netter at 19:40. If this was it for either him or Zuccarello, they’ll be missed. The Rangers only have two home games left before the Feb. 25 trade deadline in two weeks. Crazy stuff.
BONY 3 STARS:
3rd 🌟 Adam McQuaid, NYR (key insurance marker for 2nd goal in 4 games for gritty veteran with character)
2nd 🌟 Mats Zuccarello, NYR (2 primary assists and more grunt work from one of the most popular Rangers)
1st 🌟 Alexandar Georgiev, NYR (a remarkable 55 saves on 56 shots including 23 of 23 on the power play to give himself a birthday present)