Hunted down by Predators, Ellis elbows Buchnevich in head, Panarin scores in fifth straight to hit 20

There are going to be times where you play well enough to win, but lose. And vice versa. It evens out during the season.

The Rangers probably felt like they deserved better than a 5-2 home defeat to the Predators last night at The Garden. They fired 41 shots on Nashville backup Juuse Saros. However, he was the difference in finishing with 39 saves to outplay Alexandar Georgiev.

The Predators were opportunistic. They cashed in on their scoring chances to put three pucks past Georgiev on only 22 shots. All three came off the rush including a back breaking goal from Mattias Ekholm, who came out of the penalty box and beat Georgiev high stick side for a 3-1 lead in the second period. That proved to be the game-winner.

Interestingly, captain Roman Josi scored 5:07 earlier following a controversial minor penalty for elbowing on Ryan Ellis. He elbowed Pavel Buchnevich in the head and only received two minutes. It was a horrible miss by refs Kelly Sutherland and Jean Hebert. Ellis should’ve served a five-minute elbowing major and been ejected for a dangerous blow to the head.

Fortunately, after he was checked out for concussion protocol, Buchnevich returned to the game. If the Department of Player Safety doesn’t fine and suspend Ellis for the dirty hit, something’s wrong. Those are the kind of plays they want to eliminate.

Hockey is a funny game. You can play well and lose, or get outplayed and win due to your goalie. We’ve seen the Rangers win games they had no business winning due to Georgiev stealing them. They had many chances on Monday night to score, but didn’t take advantage. Give credit to Saros, who was the best player on the ice. He stole the game for his team.

The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play despite firing 11 shots on goal. Saros stopped them all. The special teams failure came back to cost them. If you want to point to an area they lost, this was it. Nashville was 0-for-2 on the power play. But their penalty kill led by Saros got the job done. They also scored two goals after New York power plays expired. A momentum killer.

Rocco Grimaldi opened the scoring when he made a good move to get off a shot that deflected off Brady Skjei’s skate and by Georgiev. It looked like he still could’ve had it. It went through the five-hole. Obviously, he wasn’t as sharp as he’s been recently.

On the next shift, a Nashville turnover in the neutral zone allowed Mika Zibanejad to come in two on none with Chris Kreider, who beat Saros low for his eighth to tie the score 34 seconds later.

Following Kreider’s goal, the Rangers spent a lot of time in the Nashville zone dictating the play. They were way better except on the scoreboard. Despite a 15-8 edge in shots, they were only tied after one period.

It was at 8:01 of the second where Ellis caught Buchnevich up high in the helmet with an elbow that sent him to the locker room. Following their failure to score on a dubious minor penalty that should’ve been more, the Blueshirts gave up a go-ahead goal to Josi on the rush. On a play started by Kyle Turris, Dan Hamhuis got the puck over to Josi, who skated in and fired a good shot through a screen to beat Georgiev for a 2-1 lead at 10:16.

In a period where there were quite a few penalties including a ridiculous misconduct to Brendan Lemieux, the Rangers failed again on a man-advantage. Ekholm was serving two minutes for cross-checking Kreider. But 12 seconds after it expired, a smart Nick Bonino lob pass got behind to Ekholm, who came out of the box and broke in to score on Georgiev for a 3-1 Predators lead at 15:23. That was a back breaker. It was the best shot Nashville scored on with Ekholm going high, far side inside the post.

I should note that prior to the consecutive tallies from Josi and Ekholm, Panarin thought he had one early in the period. But the officials were right as his quick wrist shot hit the far goalpost and then the puck took a unlucky bounce and stayed out by rolling right on the goal line. Had he scored there as the team thought, that might’ve changed the game.

In the third, Buchnevich took a ill advised minor penalty in the offensive zone for holding. One of those lazy penalties he’s done a few times this year. Even though he returned and played better offensively speaking by getting opportunities on Saros, he again didn’t register a point. That’s nine games in a row without a point. His last came on Nov. 29 at Boston. It’s inexplicable.

With Saros locked in and the Predators sitting back, it took until Zibanejad fed Panarin for a very good shot for number 20 with 2:42 left in regulation for the Rangers to make it interesting. Panarin has a five-game goal streak. He’s halfway to his first 40 goal season. Wouldn’t it be something if he did it? What a player.

But with Georgiev again going to the bench for an extra skater, a poor Buchnevich dump directly behind the net allowed Josi enough time to turn around and fire the puck down ice 200 feet for an empty net goal with 1:49 remaining. It was a bad dump in by Buchnevich because he fired the puck in too quickly. He would’ve been better off going for a soft dump in the corner which would’ve allowed his teammates to get in on the forecheck and have a chance to recover the puck. But he didn’t. And Josi got his second of the game to make it 4-2.

Fittingly, Ellis scored a second empty netter with over five seconds left for the final score. He shouldn’t have even been out there. But that’s the kind of game it was. A total waste. They better show some balls and suspend him. It would be a colossal failure if Ellis got off and played tonight at the Islanders, who you figure will make mince meat of the Preds, who aren’t that good.

That’s gonna do it. There isn’t a whole lot else to say.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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