Maybe these games don’t have the same meaning to some. Don’t tell the Rangers. They went into Toronto and earned a hard fought 2-1 overtime win over the Maple Leafs. Ryan Strome scored the OT winner at 1:48 on a nice Boo Nieves set up to give improving rookie Alexandar Georgiev another victory over the Leafs.
For a team on the verge of elimination, they sure play tenacious hockey. Even if they needed 44 more saves from a lights out Georgiev to stifle one of the league’s highest scoring offenses. Don’t forget what he did on his 23rd birthday against these Leafs, making 55 saves in a home win on Feb. 10. In three starts against Toronto in the season series, he stopped 130 of a possible 136 shots. Very impressive considering his last two that saw him go 99 for 101 in two straight wins versus those Leafs.
Toronto couldn’t solve him conventionally. They fired shots from every conceivable angle, attempting a ridiculous 104. That means 59 never made the net. The Rangers played solid team defense by blocking 33 shots led by recent Hartford recall John Gilmour’s seven. Usually, if you give up the high volume of shots they did, it’s due to being dominated and poor defensively. That wasn’t the case. They competed for every loose puck and battled the Leafs in front.
It wasn’t one sided either with the Blueshirts getting 28 shots on goal and finishing with 58 attempts. Sure. They were outshot 45-28 including 20-7 in the third period. But they made Toronto earn it. It actually took a broken play for Zach Hyman to score his 19th off a good pass from John Tavares at 8:33 of the third to tie the score. The original play saw Georgiev stop Mitch Marner with the rebound going up in mid-air. Mika Zibanejad missed batting the puck out of harm’s way. That allowed Tavares to find Hyman for an open side.
Everything else they tried didn’t work against Georgiev. In my estimation, he played the game of the season by again stifling the Leafs at every turn. He had the number of Tavares, Marner and Auston Matthews. Oh, they got quality chances, but the focus of the Bulgarian Brick Wall was on point. If not for a flukey play, he shuts them out over a month later after the remarkable 55 save birthday present.
It went to three-on-three overtime. A sore spot for the Rangers most of the season. They hadn’t won in extras since beating the Avalanche for their first win of the season. It had been nothing but heartache for Quinn’s crew. Interestingly, he sent out Boo Nieves early in the three-on-three. The same Nieves, who played on the fourth line. He had a great chance late in regulation on a good pass by Brendan Smith. Instead, he passed it up for a covered Brett Howden. Quinn told Nieves to shoot the next time.
In OT, he got a two-on-one with Strome. Strome got the puck over to Nieves for a good one-timer that Frederik Andersen made a diving stop on to rob him. Nieves stuck with it behind the net and passed for Strome, who stuffed the puck into an open net for the game-winner. Look at the reaction of the team after the goal.
It sure was a nice reward for both Strome and Georgiev, who MSG analyst Steve Valiquette correctly noted that it’s been the first-year netminder who’s gotten all the tough starts over Henrik Lundqvist in the second half. So many pundits are too quick to brush aside Georgiev due to the anticipation of the team signing Russian goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin.
Let’s be honest. If he signs, it would be a unreasonable expectation to think Shestyorkin could come over to North America and take the backup job away from Georgiev by playing as well as Georgie has. His improvement the past couple of months is impressive. Once again, goalie coach Benoit Allaire gas done a great job developing a young goalie who wasn’t even on the radar before last season.
Georgiev deserves to be here this Fall and share the work load with Lundqvist. Even if that means Shestyorkin starts in Hartford with recently signed college goalie Adam Huska, so be it. You don’t have to rush him right away. Let’s not go overboard. The KHL is not even close to the NHL. Shestyorkin has played on a loaded team for St. Petersburg SKA. He split starts with former AHL goalie Magnus Hellberg.
With Lundqvist signed another two years and Georgiev proving he deserves to stay, there is no need to rush Shestyorkin. He’s 23 and can develop at the right pace given the team’s depth. Georgiev is a bargain who’ll earn $792,500 through next year as his entry level contract expires. He’s a Group II free agent in 2020.
As for the one goal they scored in regulation, it came off the red hot stick of Pavel Buchnevich 19 seconds into the third period. He notched his 18th when he was able to get to a rebound of a Kevin Shattenkirk shot that Brady Skjei got a piece of. Brendan Lemieux drew attention in front to allow Buchnevich to score for the sixth time in 10 games. Lemieux does all the grunt work. He drove the Leafs nuts throughout with battles in front of Andersen.
It was a encouraging game. Especially when you win. Something that’s been a rare occurrence since last month. Their last victory came over the Devils at home. It’s been a while.
There are now eight games left. The world beater rival Penguins pay a visit to MSG on Monday. It’s a game we go to. Who gets the start? Georgiev or Lundqvist. It’s a good question.
I know it doesn’t mean a whole lot. But a win over the annoying Pens would be nice. They’ve kicked our ass this year.
BONY 3 STARS:
3rd 🌟 John Gilmour, Rangers (7 blocked shots in 22 shifts-17:00)
2nd 🌟 Ryan Strome, Rangers (overtime winner for his 14th goal as a Blueshirt, a gamer)
1st 🌟 Alexandar The Great Georgiev, Rangers (44 saves including 19 of 20 in a busy 3rd for Prince Alexandar)