Home ice is supposed to be friendly. Not so much for the Rangers, who had two bad bounces go against them in a 4-2 loss to the Canadiens. Those two bounces resulted in Montreal goals to turn around a second period that once saw the Blueshirts lead in shots 8-0. Carey Price was le magnifique (magnificent) and Joel Armia recorded his first NHL hat trick to get the Habs a huge win. They’re battling the Penguins, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Flyers for the playoffs.
It’s amazing how bad luck can change a game. The Rangers were in control leading by a goal while dominating play. Vladislav Namestnikov extended his point streak to four straight by redirecting a Brady Skjei point shot for his ninth back in a good first period. He easily could’ve had a hat trick if not for some splendid netminding by Price, who finished with 28 saves to earn the game’s second star. He robbed Namestnikov point blank on a one-timer and didn’t allow a rebound. Namestnikov was the best skater for the Garden hosts, who probably wish they played on better ice.
The game sure turned around. The first bad bounce saw a innocent looking Jordie Benn dump in take a crazy carom off the back boards right to Tomas Tatar, who quickly centered for a Brendan Gallagher deflection to tie the game. There wasn’t much Henrik Lundqvist could’ve done. The same for his defense.
With the game tied, Montreal used the weird goal and swung the momentum by using their speed to get the puck in deep and create a ton of scoring chances. In fact, they took 18 of the next 19 shots. Lundqvist came up with a couple of dandies on Gallagher in tight. Unfortunately, he couldn’t handle a Christian Folin dump in that took a wacky hop just by his paddle right to Armia. He easily beat Lundqvist, who was down for a 2-1 Habs lead.
The Rangers only wound up with four more shots in the period they once led 8-0 with Price standing on his head. The best shifts came from the new third line of Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich and Brendan Lemieux, who was very active throughout. I’m sure he regrets not shooting the puck on a two-on-one. Instead, he opted for a low percentage pass that missed connection.
Playing his first game since being recalled from Hartford, Libor Hajek was fine. Wearing number 43, the 21-year old left defenseman skated well in taking 23 shifts (17:35). He finished with two shots, two takeaways, a hit and a tacky minor penalty for holding the stick. I liked what I saw. He played poised and looked calm. Exactly the advice veteran Kevin Shattenkirk said he’d give him.
The Rangers didn’t give up following Armia tallying his second by taking advantage of a Skjei turnover to power through the Ranger defenseman’s back check, to beat Lundqvist high glove side for a 3-1 Montreal lead. Skjei looked like he’d recovered by getting back, but was too weak to prevent the unscreened Armia shot. One I felt Lundqvist should’ve had. He played well making 32 saves, but got outplayed by Price. It was another frustrating night for him.
After a TV timeout, coach David Quinn could be seen encouraging the bench. MSG reporter John Giannone informed viewers that the coach told his players they were too slow. It was true. The Habs were outskating them.
They responded as usual. There is no quit in these guys. Even with some good former Rangers gone, they continue to battle hard for Quinn. A good characteristic that wasn’t part of their DNA last year under Alain Vigneault. Some of Mika Zibanejad’s comments following Wednesday’s overtime loss to Tampa were pretty telling. He said if that game was last year, they would’ve lost 6-1. Instead, they played the Lightning tough and took it to the three-on-three garbage.
Zibanejad’s line was shut down by the Habs. Jimmy Vesey had some close calls, but was unable to keep his hot streak going. Tony DeAngelo also had his assist streak end at eight.
I thought the other lines were better. The Andersson line, Ryan Strome line and Boo Nieves line worked hard. The unit of Andersson, Lemieux and Buchnevich mixed it up. Lemieux was certainly running his mouth with Max Domi, who’s no stranger to that stuff. Domi’s line with Jonathan Drouin and Andrew Shaw were a pain in the neck all night. During a scrum, Buchnevich actually chatted with Domi. Did he speak Russian? Buchnevich has played with more of a edge lately. I’d keep him with Andersson and Lemieux for now.
I’m not sure where Filip Chytil will play when he returns. Maybe he can slide into the second line for Fast eventually. Fast did finally get a point when he had a Skjei pass bounce off him right to Lemieux for his first goal as a Blueshirt. That came with 2:32 left. They got the puck for him.
Quinn pulled Lundqvist with over two minutes remaining. But Nate Thompson pushed Buchnevich off the puck leading to Paul Byron passing it to Armia for the hat trick into a open net at 19:23. Lemieux exchanged pleasantries with Domi causing a mini dust up with Frolin, who he had a run in with earlier. It earned Lemieux a misconduct. He’s going to be a popular player in record time.
All in all, a tolerable loss against a better opponent competing for the postseason. But with very competitive players like Lemieux, who doesn’t believe in mailing it in, this team won’t accept defeats. They’ll continue to play hard and try to win as many of the remaining 18 games left.
BONY 3 STARS:
3rd 🌟 Vladislav Namestnikov, NYR (scored his 9th and easily could’ve had more if not for Price)
2nd 🌟 Carey Price, MTL (terrific throughout making 28 saves)
1st 🌟 Joel Armia, MTL (first career hat trick for #’s 8, 9 & 10)
Notes: With two apples, that gives Skjei five points (3-2-5) over the last four. … Shattenkirk recorded an assist for the fourth straight game. His play has quietly steadied. Tonight, he paired up with Skjei. … The top line of Zibanejad, Kreider and Vesey were a combined minus-eight with five shots. … Namestnikov is 5-3-8 in the last eight. … Chytil was a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game. Fredrik Claesson also sat out. … Rangers (27-27-10) remain at 64 points with 18 games left. They’re seventh in the Metro Division and six points ahead of the Devils, who dropped a 6-3 decision to the Flyers on Friday night. … NYR host the Caps on Sunday at 12:30 PM. … With the victory, the Habs are up to 77 points with 17 left. They’re currently in the first wildcard with a big game tomorrow night versus the Penguins.
EAST PLAYOFF RACE
+1.Lightning 65 GP 102 Pts 43 ROW
*2.Bruins 64 GP 85 Pts 36 ROW
*3.Maple Leafs 64 GP 82 Pts 39 ROW
+1.Islanders 64 GP 81 Pts 34 ROW
*2.Capitals 65 GP 81 Pts 34 ROW
*3.Hurricanes 64 GP 76 Pts 34 ROW
*1.Canadiens 65 GP 77 Pts 33 ROW
*2.Blue Jackets 63 GP 75 Pts 36 ROW
3.Penguins 64 GP 75 Pts 32 ROW
4.Flyers 65 GP 70 Pts 29 ROW
5.Sabres 64 GP 68 Pts 26 ROW
ROW is the first tiebreaker.