Game #51 Stars bring Rangers back to reality, Lundqvist pulled, Buchnevich demoted despite a goal

Stephen Johns celebrates an emotional goal during a Stars 5-3 win over the Rangers, who again failed to win three in a row last night. AP Photo credit Dallas Stars via Getty Images

Some games you can’t explain. Although I knew the Stars were better than the Rangers, it still hurts that they again failed to string together three consecutive wins. They’ve only done it once and that was before Thanksgiving.

Like a broken record that plays over and over again similar to classic Bill Murray character Phil in Groundhog Day, the Rangers aren’t a playoff team. They may have took care of business by banking four points against lowly Detroit. However, they were no match for Dallas, who used a pair of Joe Pavelski power play goals within a 16 second span to turn a 1-0 deficit around. The Stars got another goal from Henrik Lundqvist killer Blake Comeau as they scored three in a row to break open a tie game and defeat the Rangers 5-3 at MSG.

There wasn’t much to like about this one. The only area they excelled was on the power play. Indeed, the Rangers went three for three on power play goals from Pavel Buchnevich (10th), Brett Howden (7th) and Brendan Lemieux (6th). The problem was despite doing some good things at five-on-five and leading in shots 18-11 and then 22-13, they didn’t take advantage.

Instead, it was the Stars who were opportunistic by scoring four times on 15 shots to chase Lundqvist, who made his second straight start following a shutout at Detroit. It didn’t go well. He was out by the start of the third period where Alex Georgiev replaced him and allowed one goal on six shots in relief. The one was scored by Corey Perry on a rebound to make it 5-2 Stars.

That was enough for Dallas backup Anton Khudobin to come away with the victory. He was far busier finishing with 33 saves including 29 for 29 at even strength to give his team the road win. The Stars go for the metro area sweep at the Islanders tomorrow night.

The game started out well for the Blueshirts. With Andrew Cogliano off for a trip on Artemi Panarin, Buchnevich scored for the third time in four games to give the Rangers an early 1-0 lead at 2:29. It was a lucky one. Taking a feed from Panarin, he skated into the Stars zone and caught Khudobin leaning with a sharp angle shot to hit double digits for the season. Tony DeAngelo picked up a secondary assist for his 40th point.

The game changed following an interference minor to Brendan Smith. Dallas would capitalize in odd fashion when Pavelski scored his 10th from John Klingberg and Jamie Benn. It was weird because of the way the puck was ruled to have gone in. Even the replays on MSG were confusing. The puck hit the glass after going in. Both Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti were confused. So was I. David Quinn had to be puzzled after losing the challenge. It handed Dallas another power play.

It didn’t take long for Pavelski to notch number 11 just 16 seconds later. Tyler Seguin and Benn combined to set up Pavelski in the slot for a 2-1 Dallas lead at 8:24. He was left wide open to blow a one-timer past Lundqvist. It was lousy coverage by all four penalty killers. Jamie Benn was allowed to easily find Pavelski in the slot for the second power play goal that put the Stars up by one.

Still trailing, the Rangers got the benefit of a Dallas bench minor for too many men on the ice. They would score in unconventional fashion. Initially, the refs immediately waved off Brett Howden’s goal. The reason being is he gloved the puck down first in front of the Stars net before putting it in. They must’ve thought he didn’t get a stick on it. After video review, the call was overturned giving Howden a rare power play goal.

Kaapo Kakko picked up an assist along with Lemieux. It was Kakko’s first point since Jan. 2. So it took exactly a month for the teenager to get his 10th assist and 17th point. He’s looked better since the team returned from the break. I thought having the time off would be good. He went home and it had to help. He’s still playing on the third line. But perhaps a promotion could be coming.

After one period, you had a tie hockey game. All four goals were scored on the power play. The Rangers held a 13-7 shots edge. They would surge ahead in the second by getting five of the first nine to increase to 18-11 for the game. However, they were unable to score on Khudobin, who outside of allowing a bad goal to Buchnevich, had a good night. He finished with 33 saves. One of the best backups in the game, he allowed starter Ben Bishop to rest for Tuesday’s visit at the Islanders. The Isles need the game as they’ve fallen to the final wildcard behind Columbus and Philadelphia.

It was the Stars who got the first goal at even strength. It was an emotional one for defenseman Stephen Johns. Having dealt with post traumatic headaches, he wasn’t sure he would get to return again. He scored his first goal of the season on a good one-timer from the point through traffic to put Dallas ahead 3-2. Here’s how it looked and sounded on the Dallas telecast. Plus an emotional Johns discussing how much it meant with his parents in the stands.

Obviously, you feel good for Johns. It sounds like he went through a difficult time. Him talking about the pain he experienced and how it wasn’t only him. But his parents too that have supported him by attending many games. That’s what it’s all about. He has good perspective. A feel good moment for sure.

I mentioned earlier how Comeau kills Lundqvist. He owns him. It’s the strangest thing. Since his days with the Islanders, the checking winger has always had a penchant for scoring big goals against Lundqvist. How many of the 14 are shorthanded? He did get probably two or three with the Isles and Pens down a man. For a player who’s never going to be confused with Ovechkin, he has a good shot. Once again, it was Groundhog Day at The Garden for Hank.

He probably sees Comeau in his sleep scoring on such great shots as the excellent wrist shot he ripped top shelf on the far side, blowing a hole through his glove. I said that for effect. Some guys just have goalie’s numbers. Comeau took advantage of a misread by Phil Di Giuseppe (yes he played for Chris Kreider). The puck took a favorable carom off the side boards over Di Giuseppe right to Comeau for a two-on-one. He’s a shoot first player. The alternate Stars captain earned his seventh on the fluky play to give the Stars a two goal lead at 11:56 of the second.

You can tell by the reaction of Ryan Lindgren how disappointed he was by the Comeau goal. Di Giuseppe was scrambling back, but obviously was too late. It’s a shot you’d like to see Lundqvist stop. But let’s give some credit to Comeau. It was a great shot. Better than I first thought. Not bad for a guy with 135 career NHL goals in a respectable 835 games while playing for six teams (Isles, Flames, Blue Jackets, Pens, Avalanche, Stars). The Rangers are the only team Comeau has double digits against going 14-10-24 in 36 games. Crazy stuff.

The second period was a letdown. The Rangers also took two penalties aside from the breakdowns on the Dallas goals. One was coincidental with both Howden (hooking) and Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen (embellishment) going off for matching minors.

Without Kreider, who they kept out as a precaution despite him pushing to play, Quinn mixed up his lines. Believe it or not, Di Giuseppe started with Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad. However, quite a few different combinations were tried as the game went on. This even included Lindgren taking a shift with Marc Staal. Why? It also featured goal scorer Buchnevich on the fourth line with Greg McKegg and Brendan Smith in the third.

That didn’t go well. They were caught on for the Stars fifth goal. On some sustained pressure, a one-timer was mishandled by Georgiev. The rebound went right to Perry, who got position on McKegg to slam it in for just his fourth goal at 5:22. How the mighty have fallen. He once won the Hart Trophy with the Ducks.

Regarding what happened to Buchnevich, Quinn didn’t say much. He just repeated himself when pressed.

Strange how the guy goes from getting his third goal over the last four early on and then gets benched. The Rangers were without Kreider. Filip Chytil shifted to the wing to take Buchnevich’s place. Lemieux also played more even drawing a penalty and then tallying a third power play goal that made it 5-3 with 6:43 left in regulation. Adam Fox drew the only assist on Lemieux’s deflection. That’s something he’s adept at. He definitely needs to become more consistent. He hasn’t been as effective since returning.

Of course, Lemieux stirred the pot late. With Georgiev pulled, the sneaky Blueshirt knocked the stick out of Benn’s hands. He then took a pass and put a shot past Khudobin with a minute left as the whistle blew. With Benn irate at Lemieux for what he did, obviously it was no goal and matching minors to both players. Lemieux for interference and Benn for roughing. I would’ve done the same exact thing to Lemieux. He’s a lot like his Dad, who was a better player that knew how to agitate the heck out of opponents.

As far as replacing Lundqvist with Georgiev at the start of the third, Quinn explained it well.

He obviously wasn’t happy with his team’s effort. They once again failed to get that winning streak. How can anyone expect them to chase down all the team’s in front of them when they can’t put together a good stretch? That’s why I’ve been consistent in concluding that this isn’t a playoff team. They do compete hard, but there is also too much inconsistency which good teams don’t have.

Next up are the Maple Leafs. They’re the same Jekyll and Hyde high flying and scoring club that doesn’t play much defense. Even worse, they lost starter Frederik Andersen to an injury during last night’s 5-3 home loss to the Panthers, who scored the last four. Michael Hutchinson replaced him after the first. It wasn’t until the third that the bottom fell out. He allowed three goals in a row followed by an empty netter.

The Leafs fell back to out of the wildcard. They have 63 points, trailing the Isles by one. The Hurricanes also have 63 with one less game played. Unless Montreal or the Rangers make a move, it’s basically 10 teams competing for eight spots.

Battle of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Joe Pavelski, Stars (a pair of power play goals in 16 seconds)

2nd 🌟 Blake Comeau, Stars (14th career goal vs Lundqvist on a wicked wrist shot high cheese, a Ranger killer got the winner)

1st 🌟 Stephen Johns, Stars (emotional first goal that put Stars ahead for good with parents in stands)

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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