Mika Zibanejad celebrates a goal in a nice comeback 6-4 Rangers win over the Jets in a crazy home opener. AP Photo by Adam Hunger via Getty Images
This one was crazy. It felt like a baseball game with home runs being hit and pitchers giving up long balls. That analogy certainly applied to what goalies Henrik Lundqvist and Connor Hellebuyck must’ve felt like.
In the end, Lundqvist prevailed with 43 saves for career victory number 450 in a wild and wacky 6-4 Rangers win over the Jets in the home opener. On a tough night for goaltending and defense, the Blueshirts found a way to get it done to win the season opener.
Brett Howden scored with 4:09 remaining to break a 4-4 tie. It wasn’t a pretty goal like the beauty Mika Zibanejad scored when he took a great Jacob Trouba pass and whipped a backhand past Hellebuyck on a great deke to tie the score. Zibanejad was the game’s best player putting up four points (goal/3 apples) in Game 1 of 82.
In a memorable opener that saw both Trouba and Artemi Panarin score their first goals and combine for five points, it was a young second-year player in a supporting role who got the game-winner. Howden won a offensive draw back to Jesper Fast for a shot that was partially blocked. With Brendan Lemieux creating havoc in front, Howden had an easy put away for his first of the season at 15:51.
They still needed a couple of big stops from Lundqvist, who wasn’t at his best. However, when he needed to come up with the clutch saves, he did to preserve a win. One that was clinched in odd fashion when secret weapon Brendan Smith scored into an empty net with under 17 seconds left. What made it so strange was nobody knew where the puck was. It must’ve gone out. My guess is the four officials missed it. Smith took a Zibanejad pass and sealed it.
What a bizarre game it was. Marc Staal scored the game’s first goal on a nice wraparound at 11:35 of the first thanks to some good sustained pressure from Zibanejad. He definitely surprised Hellebuyck. This is a guy who gets at best, three goals a season. He nearly had another on one of rookie Kaapo Kakko’s best early shifts. But was stopped by Hellebuyck.
A miscue from both Lias Andersson and Brady Skjei led to Mark Scheifele tying it at 17:23. After Andersson lost the puck along the boards, Skjei let Nik Ehlers go past him behind the net and center for a quick Scheifele one-timer past Lundqvist.
Despite getting outplayed and outshot 13-7 by an aggressive Winnipeg forecheck, the Rangers found themselves tied.
The second was even nuttier. On a power play, Panarin was able to find a heavy Zibanejad shot that caromed out for an easy rebound that was his first goal as a Ranger 27 seconds in. Trouba helped set it up the power play goal. That should be a theme to the new season.
Before fans could get into their seats, here came Ehlers and Blake Wheeler two on one. They absolutely dusted Staal and Tony DeAngelo with Ehlers dishing across for an easy Wheeler finish that knotted it 30 seconds later. Eighteen-year old Ville Heinola recorded his first NHL point by getting a secondary assist. He was the first round pick in the Trouba deal that included former Ranger defenseman Neal Pionk, who wore number 4 for his new team.
The game got even wackier when two goals were scored nine seconds apart by each team. First, Trouba got his first as a Blueshirt thanks to some good hustle and patience from Panarin. He went into the corner and retrieved a loose puck passing it to Chris Kreider. With the power play expiring, Kreider got it over for Trouba, who unleashed one through traffic for a 3-2 Rangers lead at 6:03.
Like the groundhog, they couldn’t even celebrate. Nine seconds is all it took for Wheeler to back up the Rangers five skaters and surprise Lundqvist through the wickets at 6:12. Ehlers and Dmitri Kulikov assisted. The D backed in too much. They gave up too many shots (47). But it’s the first game. It’s gonna take time. They are young.
Having been outplayed the first two periods, they remained tied at three. Winnipeg led in shots 33-20. All it was going to take was one good period to squeeze out a win.
The third didn’t start off right. The Jets took advantage of a Skjei delay of game minor by scoring on the power play. It was recently re-signed forward Kyle Connor, who snuck a tricky shot by Lundqvist. He didn’t get enough of it. That made it 4-3 Jets at 2:41 of the period.
There was plenty of time for a comeback. A couple of minutes later, Trouba found a huge seam to thread the needle for Zibanejad. He did the rest by flying in and going forehand, backhand deke and in one motion like he does in the shootout, top shelf. It was the goal of the game.
Even though the game was hanging in the balance, you had to feel good. The Rangers were resilient and never went away. They were up against one of the game’s best offenses. Winnipeg definitely was more attackable without Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers. It’s hard to be the same defense when you lose that kind of quality. They still have Morrisey and Kulikov. But the D is gonna struggle like it will in NYC.
The Rangers right side of Trouba (1-2-3), DeAngelo (🍎) and rookie Adam Fox is way better. In particular, I want to praise Fox for how well he played in his NHL debut. He was poised throughout and didn’t look nervous. Neither did Kakko, who got stronger as the game went on. He is gonna be very exciting.
It was the Blueshirts who got the fifth goal. Coach David Quinn moved up the new Rangers Grate One Lemieux for the big shift. All he did was distract the defense and Hellebuyck, making the Fast rebound an easy one for Howden, who had a good night in front of his family.
All in all, a good win. The right way to start it off.
3rd ⭐ Blake Wheeler, Jets (2 goals)
2nd ⭐ Jacob Trouba, Rangers (first goal as NYR, 2 assists)
1st ⭐ Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (goal, 3 🍎)