On emotional day, Rangers show resolve in convincing win over Devils as Zuccarello says goodbye


It’s never easy to say goodbye. Especially to a few teammates you share a locker room and go into battle with. That was clearly the case to everyone during Saturday’s match against the Devils. Aware of the circumstances surrounding Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid, the Rangers showed plenty of resolve in posting a convincing 5-2 win over their blood rival.

Without those key players with one relocating to Dallas for the rest of the season, coach David Quinn was very pleased with his team’s performance. He should be. They came out ready to go scoring three times in a dominant first period that saw them outshoot an unprepared Devils 15-4.

Rearranging the lines, Quinn moved Jimmy Vesey up to the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. Ryan Strome centered the second line with Vladislav Namestnikov and Jesper Fast. Lias Andersson centered the Kids Line with Filip Chytil and Pavel Buchnevich. The fourth line was Boo Nieves in the middle flanked by Connor Brickley and forward Brendan Smith. The D pairs were Brady Skjei with Neal Pionk, Marc Staal and Tony DeAngelo, and Fredrik Claesson with Kevin Shattenkirk.

Just about every change worked out. The new top line combined for six points. Both Kreider and Vesey had a goal and assist while Zibanejad tallied two helpers. Strome scored twice with both Namestnikov and Fast each recording an assist. Buchnevich continued his improvement by adding two apples. DeAngelo continued his good run with an assist to extend his point scoring streak to six (0-7-7). Skjei scored his first goal since Dec. 16. Shattenkirk assisted on a goal.

It’s so rare for everything to work out that way in a game. That they did it in such smooth fashion without three regulars who in all likelihood played their final games, shows a lot of mental fortitude.

They laid it all out there against a opponent that clearly was overwhelmed in the early part. Vesey got the scoring started as a power play expired when he steered in a Buchnevich feed past Cory Schneider at 4:48. DeAngelo helped set it up to continue his strong play. He’s really come into his own since Quinn benched him. That trade no longer looks bad anymore.

Penalties really hurt the Devils. Brett Seney was just leaving the penalty box when Vesey got his 14th. A Drew Stafford tripping minor negated a Devil power play. Eventually, it led to Strome tallying a power play goal thanks to a brilliant pass from Kreider. Buchnevich started the play followed by Kreider, who made a no look centering feed that Strome buried for his eighth as a Blueshirt. He would add a empty netter. Since coming over from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner, Strome has scored nine of his 10 goals on Broadway.

On a dominant shift, Kreider snapped an eight game drought with his 25th from Zibanejad and Vesey for a 3-0 lead at 14:23. It was his best game in a while. The best part is it looks like he’s staying put. You need a gritty power forward like Kreider for any rebuild. It took him a while to become a complete player.

Signed through next year, I hope the plan is to extend him this summer. I’d love nothing better than seeing Kreider as the next captain before the ’19-20 season opener. He does so many things well. Just ask Schneider about being unable to pick up a Skjei point shot in the second due to Kreider battling Eric Gryba in front. Schneider mentioned it during his postgame while expressing frustration with the way the Devils played.

Prior to Skjei putting the Rangers back up by three during the third, newcomer Kenny Agostino scored his first goal as a Devil. Claimed off waivers from Montreal, the 26-year old local kid from Morristown was able to beat Alexandar Georgiev with a quick wrist shot from the slot unassisted at 2:20.

Following the dreadful start, the Devils played the Rangers on even terms the final two periods. Shots favored the Garden hosts by a slim 19-17 margin. There was no scoring in a second that was even in shots (8-8). Kurtis Gabriel took a unnecessary penalty for cross checking Brickley in the number for no reason. It was senseless. Back in the first, Gabriel fought Smith.

Shattenkirk tripped up Blake Coleman, who had a step and was denied by Georgiev in tight. Not much else happened. Both goalies made the saves to keep it 3-0.

Following Agostino tallying for New Jersey, a great shift by Kreider resulted in Skjei ending a long 27 game drought. On a sustained forecheck, the top line pinned the Devils in. Eventually, Zibanejad and Shattenkirk combine to work the puck over to an open Skjei, who let go of a wrist shot from the point that beat Schneider. As it went in, Gryba cross checked Kreider down in frustration. They had a good battle with Kreider staying just clear of Schneider, who was distracted on the goal. Afterwards, Kreider went back at Gryba resulting in matching roughing minors at 11:08.

A desperate John Hynes challenged for goaltender interference, but it was an easy decision for the officials. The goal was upheld.

Less than two minutes later, Devils captain Andy Greene got a rare goal when he converted a two-on-one from Kyle Palmieri and Nico Hischier at 12:59 to cut the deficit to 4-2. On the play, he got behind Marc Staal to jump into the rush and beat Georgiev for his fourth upstairs.

That was as close as the Devils got. With Schneider on the bench for an extra attacker, a hard working play started by Fast got the puck to Namestnikov in the neutral zone. He made the unselfish pass over to Strome for the exclamation mark with 19 seconds remaining.

BONY 3 STARS:

3rd 🌟 Jimmy Vesey, NYR (14th of season, assist, +2 in 20:45)

2nd 🌟 Chris Kreider, NYR (goal for 25th of season, assist, 5 shots, +2 in 19:56)

1st 🌟 Ryan Strome, NYR (2 goals for #’s 8 & 9, 9-and-4 on draws, +2 in 19:09)

Notes: After the game, the Rangers traded Mats Zuccarello to the Stars for a conditional second and conditional third round pick. See the previous post for more on the move that sent the fan favorite to Dallas. … Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid remain with the club for now. Neither will play in today’s afternoon match at Washington. … For similar reasons, Marcus Johansson was a healthy scratch for the Devils, who are likely to move him before Monday’s 3 PM deadline. Pavel Zacha and newest Devil Connor Carrick sat out. … The loss snapped a personal three-game winning streak for Schneider, who made 31 saves in defeat. Georgiev only had to stop 19 to pick up his 10th win. He’s won four of his last five decisions.

… In other trade news, Ottawa dealt scoring winger Ryan Dzingel to the Blue Jackets, who are all in. They sent one time Blueshirt Anthony Duclair to the Senators along with second round picks in 2020 and 2021. It’s already the fifth organization for the 23-year old Duclair, who once was packaged by the Blueshirts for Keith Yandle. Columbus also received a seventh round pick.

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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