A Georgiev Statement: Islanders mastery continues for Rangers wildcard, Kreider wins it with 24.6 seconds left

Rangers hero Chris Kreider wears the Broadway Hat after scoring a clutch power play goal to beat the Islanders 3-2 with 24.6 seconds left in regulation. He’s making a strong case to stay. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

If this were a prize fight, the Islanders would’ve won by technical knockout in a dominant first period. If they didn’t play close to their best in a 6-2 humiliation on Monday night at MSG, the Islanders brought it in the anticipated rematch in Uniondale.

They fired shots from everywhere in an avalanche against Alexandar Georgiev in a lopsided period they controlled. It didn’t matter. The 22-6 edge in shots didn’t buckle the poised 23-year old Bulgarian netminder, who continues to be the wildcard for the Rangers. He stopped 21 of 22 and 38 of 40 overall in improving to 4-1-0 versus the Islanders, who have to be devastated after losing it crushing fashion, 3-2 on a Chris Kreider goal with 24.6 seconds left in regulation at Nassau Coliseum.

This was a statement game for Georgiev and the Rangers. They knew the Isles would come much harder after what happened Monday in Manhattan. Unlike the match three days ago, there were no fights. However, you had your share of physicality, battles and plenty of penalties. Each team was penalized six times for a game total of 24 penalty minutes. Both had five power plays. In a key part of the latest installment of the Battle Of New York, the Blueshirts won the special teams battle and took the second game of the season series thanks to a former player losing his discipline at the wrong moment.

Derick Brassard is no stranger to Ranger fans. We loved him for how clutch he was in those memorable postseason runs. Then, we appreciated what he brought back in current top center Mika Zibanejad. Still GM Jeff Gorton’s best trade to date. A close second is Rick Nash to Boston for current Blueshirts Ryan Lindgren and Ryan Strome (formerly Ryan Spooner)

Getting back to Brassard AKA Big Game Brass. He also is no stranger to taking bad penalties. At times, he can be overly aggressive. Unfortunately for the Islanders, he picked a bad time to lose his discipline. You have to be really foolish to take a crosschecking penalty in the final minute of a tie game. That’s exactly what Brassard did by delivering repeated cross checks to Jesper Fast. Did he sell it as Brassard contended? Perhaps. But he should know better.

It cost the Isles. Artemi Panarin came down and gained the zone. Tony DeAngelo passed for Panarin, who threaded the needle for a quick Zibanejad one-timer that Semyon Varlamov couldn’t quite handle. The loose puck came right to Kreider, who delivered the clutch game-winner at 19:35. It was his 16th of a season that’s completely turned around. Since he scored his seventh on my birthday Dec. 8, he’s a point-per-game with 17 points (9-8-17) over 17 games. Most of it coming since being reunited with Zibanejad, who continues to play at over a point-per-game clip. He scored his 18th in this one while recording the primary assist on Kreider’s game decider to break Islander hearts.

Let’s get back to where the game was lost for the Isles and stolen by Georgiev, who in five career appearances including one in relief, has now stopped a mind-blowing 128 of 134 shots. That translates to a dominant 1.40 GAA with a .955 save percentage. He put on a show in the first period. At one point, the shots were 7-5 in favor of the home team. But following a Marc Staal slash that knocked down Scott Mayfield, they ramped it up.

Even though the penalty kill was strong, Georgiev faced an onslaught. The shots went from 7-5 to 18-5 rather quickly. In fact, he stopped them in their tracks on just about everything. There was a three save sequence like Monday along with a flat out denial on Casey Cizikas, who returned after missing the last two games. The save came earlier in the period. With an Islander pushed in, a sprawled out Georgiev somehow kept the puck out. That more than any stop should’ve told the Isles something.

Only a brutal miscue by Jacob Trouba allowed tough Islanders enforcer Ross Johnston to retrieve a loose puck freed up by a forechecking Tom Kuhnackl, and set up a wide open Josh Bailey for his 10th with 51 seconds remaining in the period. It was a terrible play by Trouba, who didn’t take a hit and rushed a reverse that went nowhere. It was easy pickings as no one picked up Bailey in front. Trouba struggled throughout at even strength. More so than much critiqued partner Brady Skjei, who always gets bashed. They were on for both goals against. However, they were large factors on the five successful penalty kills.

Despite being severely outplayed and outshot, the Rangers had Georgiev to thank for still just trailing by one following the period. For a while, each team played at five-on-five to start the second. Unlike the opening stanza, the Rangers tightened it up defensively. In fact, they didn’t allow an Islander shot until 14 minutes had passed. In the mean time, they picked it up offensively by using better skating legs to test Varlamov. It was his turn to make the big saves. He looked very sharp unlike Monday when the Rangers chased him for six.

Varlamov had much better rebound control. He also was strong down low denying Brett Howden with a great pad save where he stretched out to rob him. Howden was all set up, but couldn’t lift the puck. He put himself in the right position, but didn’t finish. There’s a reason he has six goals. The effort from the second-year forward is unquestioned. Playing wing on a line centered by Filip Chytil has helped him get more opportunities. As for Kaapo Kakko, he had another chance to shoot but didn’t. No shots on goal in 12:19 of ice time including 2:34 on the power play. A couple of attempts were blocked.

The Islanders ran into penalty trouble. After killing off a Devon Toews hold on Zibanejad, Mayfield tripped up Panarin to put the Rangers on their third power play. This was the odd part of the game. On a broken play in front, the Blueshirts thought they scored following a Zibanejad rebound that was very close. Only Strome thought it was in. Play continued. With them still on the man-advantage, the whistle finally blew.

As it turned out, they had reviewed the previous play where it originally looked like Ryan Pulock rescued the loose puck from crossing the goal line. However, video review indeed confirmed that the puck was entirely over the line. Zibanejad got credit for a weird unassisted power play goal to tie the score at 12:46. The refs explained that it happened with 7:14 left in the period.

Before they could get full control, it was the Blueshirts who lost their cool. Consecutive minor penalties to Adam Fox and Lindgren handed the Isles a golden opportunity to claim back the momentum. However, it was the aggressive penalty killing from Zibanejad, Fast, Strome, Howden and defensemen Skjei, Trouba, Lindgren, Staal and Brendan Smith that kept the Islanders power play off balance. The two units got their sticks and equipment on a lot of passes and shots to make big defensive plays. The effort of both Zibanejad and Lindgren in particular was Herculean. They were magnificent.

So, even when Georgiev had to make the stops, his penalty killers were tremendous. They really limited an Isles attack that loves to look for tips in front from net front presence Anders Lee. It was actually a scrum with Jordan Eberle searching for a rebound that led to a bad Lindgren crosscheck minor penalty where he shoved Eberle right into the Rangers net. The forward left the ice to get checked for concussion protocol. And no. He didn’t embellish it as some of our fans felt. Even though he was cleared to return for the third, I have nothing obligatory to say.

The way some fans of both teams act or react, you’d think there was a conspiracy theory when calls go against them. In most cases, that’s not true. There have been moments where I was up in arms over the officiating. Not last night. They called it consistently for both sides. Enough already.

Despite a much stronger effort in which they held a 12-5 shots advantage, the Rangers remained tied at one with their biggest rival at a lively Coliseum that was almost 14,000 strong. Yes. They were well represented in Long Island where the Islanders should remain. It’s too bad they will eventually move to Belmont for the start of 2021-22. I’m glad the rivalry returned to the old barn . It was the first time in five years. The last meeting was a 2-1 win by the Rangers on March 10, 2015. Rick Nash got the winner on a goal assisted by Staal. One of a few players left from that game.

For many younger Blueshirts including Lindgren, Kakko, Howden, Georgiev and Jericho native Fox, it was their first time playing a NHL game at Nassau Coliseum. Even though it’s now called NYCB Live with the rest, it will always be Nassau War Veterans Coliseum to everyone. This was the 117th meeting off the Southern State. Staal leads all active Rangers skaters with 56 career games versus the Islanders. A veteran of 13 years, he continues to get unfairly criticized for what he can’t do by a bunch of chart bloggers. He was solid in his 19 shifts including some key ones on the kill. He only took the one penalty while finishing with two blocks and a plus-one rating in 16:24 including 4:12 shorthanded.

Earlier in this recap, I referenced how special teams hurt the Islanders. It really bit them in the you know what this game. A undisciplined reactionary interference minor on an incensed DeAngelo a couple of minutes into period three handed the Isles another big chance to seize control. Instead, they butchered it. With the lone exception of a gigantic pad save by Georgiev to deny Mat Barzal, he didn’t have to do much. While he would go on to make 12 saves in a very competitive period that saw his team get 10 shots themselves, he didn’t do it alone like the 21 save first.

Had the Isles scored, DeAngelo was likely facing pine time for the foolish reaction to Eberle knocking his stick out. They always get the reaction. In a tie game which felt like a playoff game, you have to avoid those undisciplined penalties in the third period. However, something funny happened. An Isles misplay at the blueline allowed DeAngelo to come out of the box and two on one down the ice. He made no mistake by firing his 12th unassisted at 4:16 past Varlamov short side top cheese. It was a great shot because he looked pass to Fast and beat the Islanders starter for a 2-1 lead.

A minor penalty for closing his hand on the puck out Pulock in the box. However, the Rangers were unable to capitalize. I knew if they didn’t put it away with a better forecheck and another goal, they were running the risk of the scrappy Islanders tying it.

A key sequence between Cizikas and Panarin changed the tone. With the Bread Man having a step on the Isles’ solid two-way checking pivot, he was taken down from behind by Cizikas. I thought Panarin helped it along at the moment. So, I wasn’t surprised that they decided to take both of them. Cizikas for hooking and Panarin for embellishment at 12:29. That was a great trade for the Isles.

It didn’t take long for them to tie it. On a smart dump in from Anthony Beauvillier, the puck took a favorable home carom off the back boards right to the rushing Ranger killer where he was able to beat both Skjei and Trouba to a loose puck and slide it between Georgiev’s legs for his 12th with 7:20 remaining in regulation. It was a fluky play for sure. But the Isles got one like that in their predictable 8-2 rout of the lowly Red Wings on Tuesday. It took all of 11 seconds for him to score. Pulock and Brock Nelson, who otherwise was noticeably quiet, got the assists.

If there was one factor in taking these first two games with the third installment next Tuesday back at 33rd and 8th Avenue, it was the Blueshirts stifling Barzal. He’s the leading scorer and lone All-Star for the Islanders. The third-year playmaking center leads them with 39 points (17-22-39) in 46 games. He doesn’t have as many helpers due to the team lacking consistent finishers. In fact, it’s Barzal who has thought shot more with his 17 goals ranking second right behind Nelson’s 18. He needs six more to set a new career high. If he had more help, the Isles could become more of a threat this Spring. Lou Lamoriello needs to make a trade.

If you can limit Barzal the way the Rangers were able to, you have a pretty good chance of winning. He has no points in the two losses with a minus-five rating and five shots. Lee was also held off the score sheet again while Eberle had tough luck clanging a power play chance off the crossbar. He’s been their best forward in the two games, getting two points (1-1-2) on Monday. Leo Komarov also hit the post on a point blank opportunity in the second that Trouba got a piece of.

With the game hanging in the balance, the two teams played a tight checking affair at even strength. It seemed like this one was destined for overtime. Neither goalie budged. Both had strong rebound control. Particularly Georgiev, who seemed to have velcro on his pads. He was very good. If he is the “third goalie” in this bizarre rotation that still features Henrik Lundqvist and patient rookie Igor Shestyorkin, he’s proving that he could be capable of starting in the NHL. It just won’t be on Broadway. I know I’ve voiced my opinion plenty about what’s going on. This tweet isn’t going to change things.

Unless Lundqvist wakes up with a bad hangover, he’s not gonna change his mind. He loves it in NYC. He has a family and enjoys the surroundings along with the royal treatment he receives from the Rangers organization. They treat their players well. That’s why it’s a marquee attraction despite it still looking like they’ll be on the outside of the playoff picture for a third straight year. They’re up to 50 points, but with the Blue Jackets continuing to win and the Hurricanes, Panthers, Flyers and Penguins all ahead, it’s hard to see such a transitional team making the postseason.

Ultimately, they have to do what’s best moving forward. I know it sounds like a broken record. But they cannot keep everybody. The contracts of Lundqvist and Staal expire next year. Unless something unforeseen happens, Gorton and John Davidson will have to choose between team leader Kreider, Fast and rising restricted free agents Strome and DeAngelo. The latter two both with arbitration rights. The price is rising. You could be talking a figure of $10 million for both. That never seemed possible. Now, it’s reality. And the way Kreider is playing, how do they say goodbye? I wouldn’t want to be Gorton.

Getting back to the dramatic conclusion. It was moments prior when Kreider took a knee from Johnny Boychuk while trying to skate out of his end. He limped to the bench. Fortunately, he was okay and returned. Boy, did they need him. While on a sustained cycle, Fast was crosschecked twice by an overly aggressive Brassard. At that point, I wasn’t expecting any arm to go up. But Brassard pushed it. He took the same bad penalties for our team.

I still didn’t believe they would win in regulation. Following an Islander clear, their crowd had to be feeling pretty good about the prospect of getting a point and playing for overtime. However, a quick Ranger transition changed matters. Suddenly, DeAngelo got the puck back to Panarin, who had enough time to feed Zibanejad for his heavy shot. As fate would have it, Kreider put home the rebound with Boychuk the closest to him.

Poetic justice. He is a solid defenseman. I respect his game. But he was lucky not to be called for a trip which could’ve injured Kreider. It felt damn good to see Kreider bury that and break Islander hearts. The game wasn’t over yet.

A tricky backhand which looked like a centering pass in search of a rebound had to be nervously kicked out by Georgiev with a few seconds left. One more clear down the ice clinched the hard fought win. If Monday was a nice treat, this was way more. To see them win a tightly played game like this was fun. This is exactly what the rivalry is all about. It’s why fans get pumped up for these games and debate each key play. Look what it meant to Kreider.

Not to forget, but Kreider also had a goalie interference minor with 6:09 left in the period when the game was tied. He had a good chance and his speed carried him right into Varlamov. Even though Pulock gave him a shove, it was the right call. It was nice to see his teammates pick him up. It was one of those plays where Kreider had a step and when he gets going like that in close, his momentum is going to take him right into the goalie. There’s nothing dirty about it. He doesn’t do it much anymore. I’m glad he wound up the hero.

Nobody has been more misunderstood than number 20 for these Broadway Blueshirts. They take him for granted. I debated some good respectable fans on why I’d like to keep him. Is he a superstar? No. However, is he a good player who can impact games by using his big frame to create havoc? Unequivocally, yes. Combined with the intangibles and leadership he brings, that’s an important player. He might not always score like he has been the past five weeks. But he is irreplaceable.

If they choose to keep him, it’s going to run Kevin Hayes money. Are they willing to do it for say at least six years at an average cap hit of $7.25 million? This is his age 29 season. He’ll probably want that seventh year. Would he take a discount to stay? Why should he?

They have to seriously explore what his worth is on the trade market. If they cannot get a young NHL forward back that can be a good player on this roster, I don’t know if I move him. This cannot be a repeat of Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller to Tampa. Even if Howden is an NHL player, he hasn’t proven to be a top nine guy yet. The jury remains out on Libor Hajek, who got sent back to Hartford. I remain optimistic over Nils Lundkvist.

I’m very curious to see what they’ll do. The organization still has a month to figure things out. Remember. If you subtract good players off the roster, you have to replace them. That won’t be easy. The key to this will be the continued emergence of Chytil along with the development of Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov, who are both not where they need to be yet. That’s okay. They’re teenagers. I still think Kakko would be better suited with a stint at Hartford. He’s too indecisive. Confidence is lacking.

Is rising prospect Lauri Pajunemi (2018 Round 5) someone they can count on? He has 21 goals for TPS-Turku in SM-liiga in Finland. That’s 21 goals and 30 points in 35 games in a good professional league. I don’t want to go overboard.

Some of the European NYR fans have a better knowledge here. I’m curious to see what Steven Voogel thinks. He knows these kids. I trust him. He can be followed on Twitter (StatBoy_Steven). I met him at a preseason game. He was wearing a Kakko jersey. They’re close. He’s a good bloke who knows his hockey. The rest I won’t comment on. Not everyone is respectful when it comes to following this team.

With the Blueshirts at 50 points through 46 games, they are giving themselves a chance here before the All-Star break to make up ground. On Sunday, they got the red hot Blue Jackets who are playing remarkably well under John Tortorella with backup goalie Elvis Merzlikins. It’s astonishing what they’re doing with key players still out. Cam Atkinson just returned and had a goal and assist in a big 3-2 win against Carolina. They both have 56 points. So do the Flyers. Florida is at 55 and Buffalo is up to 51. Even the Maple Leafs aren’t safe at 57.

These are strange times in this league where seven coaches have now lost their jobs. Gerard Gallant was the latest casualty when the Golden Knights shockingly dismissed the same coach who guided them to a Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. A four game losing streak was enough for them to make a very odd decision by replacing Gallant with former Sharks coach Pete DeBoer. That still is one I cannot understand given the history between the archrivals. Wow.

John Hynes also reemerged with Nashville after they mysteriously decided they had enough of proven winner Peter Laviolette. I bet Hasan had a good chuckle. Holy crap. There’s never been a stranger time in the NHL. Proven coaches are an endangered species. One losing skid can get you fired. Somehow, Jeff Blashill still has a job for now until Gallant replaces him. So too does Jeremy Colliton. It is crazy to think Chicago has crept within five points of a wildcard. Two total points separate first place Calgary from fifth place Edmonton. Winnipeg is at 54 points and out of a playoff spot. Is Paul Maurice next to walk the plank?

You can’t use that without a Goonies reference. Classic. Anyway, I’ve blogged for way too long. I went extra due to the craziness of the NHL. A lot can happen between now and late February. Teams are going to make tough decisions on whether to buy or sell. It won’t be easy.

The Rangers wrap up with the Jackets and Islanders before the break. Maybe then, Kakko can go down and work on his game.

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Chris Kreider, Rangers (16th of season for PPG winner with 24.6 seconds remaining, 16:57, 9-8-17 since 12/8)

2nd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (18th of season plus primary 🍎 on the Kreider winner, 5 shots, 23:14 including 3:52 PP & 5:15 PK)

1st 🌟 Alexandar Georgiev, Rangers (38 saves including 21 of 22 in a statement 1st period, remarkable stuff by Georgie)

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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