A day following the first domino to fall in popular teammate Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers showed that they wouldn’t be bullied by the Capitals in a wild 6-5 overtime loss in DC. They could’ve rolled over a couple of different times, but refused to.
In what turned out to be a very entertaining game that featured a great third period, and a unbelievable three-on-three in extras, coach David Quinn had to like the passion and resilience his younger team showed. Twice, they rallied from two goal deficits to give the defending champs all they could handle.
It wasn’t for the faint of heart. This was in your face rock ’em sock ’em hockey that the old school fan could get into. Sure. The old Patrick rivals combined for 11 goals. So, there was plenty of offense. There also was nastiness as both teams played with an edge. There were scrums, penalties and rough stuff.
Playing for a second consecutive day in the afternoon, the Blueshirts proved that they’re not going to be an easy mark for opponents. With 20 games left in the regular season, they will more often than not make teams earn what they get. Even though they still commit too many mistakes, which is not uncommon for a rebuilding club.
It’s too bad they couldn’t pull it out for hard luck loser Henrik Lundqvist (6 GA on 35 shots). He can’t seem to catch a break and win two in a row. Since the All-Star break, he’s 1-4-2 in seven starts. It wasn’t that he was awful. However, an emotional Lundqvist lamented the fact he couldn’t come up with a couple of more saves.
Chris Kreider scored for a second straight game. In fact, the power forward tallied his 26th only 21 seconds into the first period. The new top line created early magic with Mika Zibanejad and Jimmy Vesey combining to set up Kreider for an early 1-0 lead.
For most of the period, they played well. However, a momentary lapse in concentration cost them at the conclusion. A great shot pass from John Carlson allowed crafty center Nicklas Backstrom enough time to redirect the puck in at 18:42 to tie the game. Twenty-one seconds later, Michael Kempny got behind the defense and beat Lundqvist through the wickets with 57 seconds left. It was one he should’ve had.
The second didn’t start much better. With Lias Andersson off for holding, a Tom Wilson power play goal made it three consecutive goals for the Caps. But as the period went on, there were more battles after whistles. Andersson and Kempny got into it for matching minors.
Following a Lars Eller slashing minor penalty that expired, Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei made a smart play to get his second goal in two games. On a good shift by the fourth line, Skjei took a Connor Brickley pass and skated to the point and took a innocent looking turnaround shot that had eyes, surprising Washington backup Pheonix Copley for his fifth with 1:42 remaining to cut it to 3-2. Andersson picked up a secondary assist for his first point since returning. That set the stage for a wacky third period.
Twenty-one was the lucky number for the Rangers. In the first, Kreider scored 21 seconds in for the lead. At the start of the third, this time it was Vesey who scored his 15th unassisted at 21 seconds to tie the score. The play was made possible by good sustained pressure. With the defense activated, Vesey stayed high to fill in. Sure enough, a failed Washington clear came to him at the point. He fired a shot that Copley never picked up to make it 3-3.
But before you knew it, the Caps once again struck quickly twice to restore a two-goal lead. First, Brooks Orpik pinched behind the net and had a loose puck bounce off Travis Boyd right to Nic Dowd, who outwaited Lundqvist for a backhand tuck at 2:25. Then, a misplay allowed Backstrom to score unassisted for his second of the game just 36 seconds later.
Playing up front on the fourth line again, Brendan Smith got a step on Carl Hagelin, drawing a hooking minor. Hagelin had just been acquired by the Caps from the Kings. He nearly was reacquired by the Pens, but now will play for their nemesis. With him off, Vladislav Namestnikov made things more interesting when he had a Neal Pionk shot deflect off his skate and in for his eighth on the power play to cut the deficit to 5-4 at 6:01. Tony DeAngelo started the play to earn an assist for the seventh straight game. He’s up to eight helpers over that span.
The nastiness boiled over on the following shift. Ryan Strome didn’t take too kindly to a Matt Niskanen hit he felt was high. That turned into a fracas with Strome dropping the gloves with Niskanen in a heated fight that saw him get the takedown. As that was unfolding, Wilson got into it with DeAngelo, who never shies away from the rough stuff. When all was said and done, Strome got five for fighting and two for roughing while Niskanen received five for fighting. DeAngelo got two for roughing and Wilson earned four minutes due to jumping in. He got two for roughing and two for unsportsmanlike conduct. There was no loss of man power.
In a period where plenty was happening including the score not changing since Vesey’s early tally, Orpik cross checked a prone Brickley from behind right in the neck with 3:43 remaining. Upset with the cheap shot, Brickley went back at Orpik in another intense battle. It initially looked like they weren’t going to call Orpik for the original cross check. But after getting together with the linesmen, they got it right, giving the Rangers a power play. But the Caps did a good job killing it off by not giving the man-advantage any set up time.
A couple of rushes from Zibanejad resulted in near misses from Kreider and Vesey. The timing was just a little off. With time winding down, it looked like they would lose in regulation. However, the newest scoring sensation Skjei had other ideas. After breaking a 27-game drought on Saturday, he continued his surprising offense when he had a one-timer change direction off Hagelin for the tying goal at 19:29. That gave him three goals in two games. Kevin Shattenkirk and Zibanejad set up the emotional tying marker. They sure deserved it.
If the third period wasn’t enough entertainment, the overtime was even crazier. Both teams looked to end it in the three-on-three madness. It really looked like Namestnikov would get the winner when he went to a backhand in tight on Copley. But the backup was able to stone him. There was another close call where I thought Pavel Buchnevich had the winner with an open side. But he couldn’t find the puck.
Instead, the Caps’ dynamic duo of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov with Dmitry Orlov tired Zibanejad and Kreider out with Skjei. With Ovechkin all set up to fire away on Lundqvist, he shocked everyone by passing down low for Kuznetsov, whose stuff in try was initially stopped by a sliding Lundqvist. But he never had the rebound, allowing both Ovechkin and Kuznetsov to poke it loose with the Washington center the last to put home the OT winner.
All in all, it was a fun game to watch. Even though they fell short of getting the ‘W,’ I liked what I saw. Of course, Quinn talked about how he’d like the defense to improve. He’s right. They fought the good fight. Now, it’s onto the league best Lightning on Wednesday following today’s fireworks. Where will Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid wind up? Stay tuned until 3 PM. I’ll have you covered.
BONY 3 STARS:
3rd 🌟 Jimmy Vesey, NYR (15th of season plus a helper giving him 2-2-4 since moving to top line, career high 17 assists and 32 points)
2nd 🌟 Brady Skjei, NYR (2 goals for #’s 5 & 6 giving him 3 over the past 2 games, 5 shots, +1 in 21:17)
1st 🌟 Nicklas Backstrom, WSH (2 goals for #’s 14 & 15 in 22:33)
Notes: Fifteen Caps had at least a point. Ten Rangers got on the score sheet lead by Vesey (1-1-2) and Zibanejad (2 assists). … After going 10 games without a point, Namestnikov is 4-2-6 with a plus-three over his last six. There could be some interest today. … With a helper, Shattenkirk has six assists over the past seven games. He’s up to 20 points (2-18-20). … Zibanejad recorded four points (all assists) this weekend, giving him a career high 36 along with 62 points in 62 games. … With a goal for the second game in a row, Kreider is up to 26. He’s two off his career high of 28 established in ’16-17. … The Rangers will host the Caps at MSG in a week.