Hockey can be funny sometimes. All it takes is one lucky bounce to turn a game around. That’s precisely what happened for the Rangers in a weird but hard fought comeback win over the Wild via a shootout. They mounted a two goal rally with under 10 minutes left in regulation to pull out a 4-3 win in St. Paul.
Considering how frustrating most of the game was against a stingy and disciplined Wild fighting for every point in a very close Western race, let’s give the Rangers some credit. They never quit. Even when things weren’t going their way, they kept pushing forward after falling behind 3-1 following a unlucky second period.
After coach David Quinn revealed that Igor Shesterkin is the number one goalie, they had to hold him out of tonight’s schedule due to the ankle injury he played through in the win at Winnipeg. We’ll see if he gets back in tomorrow at Columbus, who should be steamed over a bad 4-3 overtime loss at Buffalo.
Instead, Alex Georgiev got the call in net. Henrik Lundqvist backed up and took a photo for a lucky fan prior to the game. At this point, he knows what the deal is. It can’t be easy. But it is what it is. The organization has to do what’s best moving forward. I’ll have more on that in the coming days. It deserves its own post. Especially when it comes to the memorable era of Lundqvist for better than a decade.
I know much has been said about it in this space and other spaces. Pro or con, this day was coming. Especially once Shesterkin established himself just like he had at Hartford following an unbelievable time back home for St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL.
Georgiev is now the other young goalie for now in this complex three goalie system. He worked hard to prove himself after a good second half in his rookie year. Even though his numbers aren’t great like Shesterkin, he’s done enough to become the backup. Where does that leave Lundqvist? In a dicey situation. One that looks headed to a resolution sooner or later. Whether it be at the Feb. 24 trade deadline, or this summer with a potential buyout possible, it looks like we’re nearing the end of Henrik’s days in a Rangers jersey. Whatever happens, what the 2000 seventh round steal accomplished should never be forgotten. No great era of Rangers hockey or three deep runs without him.
Upward and onward, Georgiev came into a tough spot and did a good job. He didn’t have to be great, but when they needed the saves to keep them in it, he gave it to them. For the night, he finished with 23 stops. None bigger than the denial he made on Eric Staal on a rebound by getting a toe on the rebound. He also stoned Mats Zuccarello on a breakaway by closing up the five-hole.
For the longest time, they turned Alex Stalock into Brodeur or Hasek. It was quite frustrating. The only goal they had on the Wild backup turned starter was a perfect Tony DeAngelo cross ice pass for Panarin, who rifled home number 29 over two minutes after Ryan Donato had beaten Georgiev with a backhand that looked to deflect off a out of position Brady Skjei. Congrats to Mikko Koivu on career assist number 500. I have his jersey somewhere in here. When is Skjei ever not screwing things up defensively? He and Jacob Trouba have had their issues. Right now, Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox are the team’s best pair.
Most of the play was five-on-five the first two periods due to the refs letting the teams play. That resulted in many battles which was interesting. You had Ryan Hartman and antagonist Brendan Lemieux get into it during a scrum with Lemieux pulling his head back like he was Crosby. That made me laugh. He’s such a punk, but if he’s on your side, you love him. They each got matching minors. That lead to four-on-four. The only time it happened.
It was a little after the penalties expired that the Wild retook the lead. On some good sustained pressure by their checking line, Jonas Brodin took a pass from Jordan Greenway and beat Georgiev with a high one-timer glove side for a 2-1 lead with 3:17 left in the first. It was a good play started by Matt Dumba to Greenway, who was able to find Brodin open for the shot. Filip Chytil didn’t do a good enough job covering him. The puck might’ve deflected. That’s an area he needs to work on.
If the Wild had the better of the play early, the Blueshirts were sharper during a good second period. They definitely tried to use their superior skating and speed to get in on the forecheck. Something Skjei alluded to during a first intermission interview with John Giannone. But nothing was getting by Stalock. Despite Panarin creating good opportunities for his line with Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast, Stalock held the fort. He got lucky too on a couple of saves with a giveaway nearly causing a goal. Chris Kreider also had a rebound for an open net, but a Wild player prevented another goal.
Pavel Buchnevich was very noticeable throughout. He was aggressive again shooting the puck and recovering pucks. However, nobody was having any luck. It just felt like one of those games where nothing goes right. Even with Kaapo Kakko thinking shot more, Stalock denied him. In a period that had some physical edge to it due to how well it was officiated, it was Minnesota who got the only goal when Greenway somehow got free to tip in a Brodin shot at 17:53 for a 3-1 lead. It looked like that would be a backbreaking goal. Brodin had been the best Wild player with a goal and assist.
The Wild defense is good. They have Brodin, Dumba, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon. A great top four who all played over 23 minutes for coach Bruce Boudreau. It’s strange that they are dangling either Brodin or Dumba with the latter especially good. He missed a ton of time due to injury. But he looks to be rounding into form. I understand they want forwards back. They also can use a goalie.
The frustration continued in the third. Following a big save from Georgiev on Donato, Trouba and the forward got into it. Each went off for matching roughs. Where was that urgency during the shift that saw Donato get behind for a breakaway with Georgiev coming up large? At least a hustling Trouba got some back pressure on Donato late to make the save easier.
Chytil finally drew the game’s first penalty when he continued to work hard in the Wild corner until defenseman Carson Soucy gave him enough crosschecks to earn a minor. As mad as he was, the Rangers sixth ranked power play may as well have declined it. It was hideous. They did absolutely nothing against the 30th rated penalty kill. That in itself was shocking given how the Wild play. You’d think their kill would be better than that. It looked like it. They didn’t allow one shot on goal to Sam Rosen’s amazement.
Zibanejad then interfered with Dumba to put Minnesota on the power play. They weren’t able to make it work. In fact, a bad Skjei tripping minor on Marcus Foligno gave them another crack at it with under eight minutes left. However, the Rangers did a nice job of penalty killing. Even minus a flu-ridden Marc Staal, who Brendan Smith subbed in for, they got the job done to give themselves a chance.
Prior to that big penalty kill, a fortunate bounce turned the game around. On just a bizarre sequence, a loose puck saw three Blueshirts all in the vicinity near Stalock. With Zibanejad, DeAngelo and Buchnevich all in the area, the puck took a favorable bounce off Buchnevich and into the Wild net for an unassisted goal at 11:51. I’m still unsure what happened. However, the right guy scored the goal. All night, Buchnevich was hustling and getting chances. He put himself in the right spot for his 12th to pull the Rangers within one. He’s been playing his best hockey. Good for him.
Once they got through the Skjei penalty, I wondered if they could somehow get this impossible game tied. Incredibly, they did. Georgiev was pulled with a couple of minutes remaining. On a surprisingly quick play where Fox got the puck to Panarin, he threw a innocent looking shot pass for Zibanejad, who calmly redirected it like a bunt into an open side from the slot. It was stunning. It also was a very skilled play for Zibanejad to pull off. He’s up to 24 goals. That play tied it with 1:06 to go in regulation.
Georgiev had to face one last try from the Wild. The game would go to overtime. In it, the Rangers controlled most of the three-on-three. Quinn rewarded Buchnevich with an OT shift with Chytil, who was denied by Stalock on a rebound. The Wild goalie also robbed Trouba of the game-winner on a give and go pass from Zibanejad. He coolly gloved the high Trouba shot.
Georgiev had his best save on a flying Kevin Fiala. Wow. He was dangerous in the overtime, creating the Wild’s best opportunities. He definitely is starting to resemble the player he was in Nashville before a horrific injury. The Wild should feel good about his development.
Unfortunately, the three-on-three didn’t decide things. It went to a shootout. It was only the third one for the Rangers. They came in 0-2. I thought it would be advantage Wild. But once Quinn sent out Zibanejad, he erased doubts by going to his patented backhand short side top on Stalock. Following a good aggressive stop from Georgiev on Donato, out came Panarin.
In the second round of the shootout, here came the Bread Man putting on the kind of dangling and puck wizardry that would make Sugar Ray Leonard proud. He kept moving until he beat a shocked Stalock on a very patient forehand deke. I wondered like Joe Micheletti if it would count. Did his momentum stop? You’re not allowed to for the goal to count. I thought it would be overturned. Instead, they said good goal to boos and a confused look on Boudreau. Even some friends thought it wasn’t a goal.
At that point, it didn’t matter. The Rangers were ahead, 2 nil needing one more stop from Georgiev. Boudreau went with shootout ace Zach Parise. The veteran made a great move opting for a fake to the backhand and pulled the puck to a gaping net. But it rang off the crossbar to give Georgiev and the Blueshirts the win. That’s how it goes sometimes.
The two points give the Rangers 62 and their second three-game winning streak of the season. The problem is they play in the wrong division. Even after getting trounced 5-0 by the Predators, the Islanders remain in third with 72 points. A Flyers 6-2 win over Florida combined with a point for the Blue Jackets have them tied with 71 for the two wildcards.
That means the Rangers are still nine out. Even with games at hand including a stern test at Columbus on Friday night, they need help. If they played in the Atlantic, they’d be only six behind the Leafs, who were 3-2 losers to the Stars in regulation. They remain in third with 68 points. Florida is blowing all these chances. A win would’ve tied them in points. The Canadiens are more alive than our team. It doesn’t seem fair. But this is the playoff system they set up.
I guess it is what it is. If they continue to win with tough tests in Columbus and at home for the Bruins on Sunday at 3:30 PM, then it gets interesting. The team still has some hard decisions coming no matter what. Let’s enjoy how they’re playing for Quinn. The growth is evident. Twenty-three more points until the 85 I predicted.
Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟
3rd 🌟 Jonas Brodin, Wild (goal and 🍎 with a +1 rating in 23:57, very underrated defenseman)
2nd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers (scored a momentum turning goal for 12th while leading team with 5 shots, a different player)
1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (game tying goal with 1:06 left in regulation, plus the shootout winner)