Game #63 Fox sparks unreal third period comeback in huge Rangers win at Montreal, bottom lines play key role, Georgiev 32 saves, Quinn pushes right buttons

Alexandar The Great: Alex Georgiev made 32 saves to allow the Rangers to come back from a two-goal deficit and win 5-2 over the Canadiens at Bell Centre. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

You want to talk about a gut check. For almost two periods, the Rangers looked dead in the water. Well, in this case, the Montreal ice. Literally speaking, they were melting away like the Wicked Witch at Bell Centre.

Nothing was going right. Badly outplayed, outskated and falling behind by two goals after a beauty from Tomas Tatar on a breakaway at 17:01 of the second period, they needed something. Alexandar Georgiev had already given them plenty with a miraculous recovery following a giveaway behind the net. He had stood on his head throughout in a brilliant 32 save performance that gave the Blueshirts a chance.

In a game they had no business being in, Adam Fox supplied the spark needed to turn it around. His primary assist to set up Phil Di Giuseppe for what amounted to a must have goal before the period expired, provided the impact play that swung the momentum.

From that point, it was the determined Rangers who took it to the fragile Canadiens, who again blew a two-goal lead on home ice. In a rousing third that was both exciting and shocking, they outscored the Habs 4-0 to make it five unanswered goals in a remarkable 5-2 win that inched them closer to the playoffs.

Up to 74 points, they trail the Blue Jackets by two with two games at hand. Even better, with the Blues coming back on the Islanders to post a 3-2 overtime win, they’re within four of the first wildcard. Things are so hectic that with the Pens on a losing streak, second or third in the Metro Division is up for grabs.

It’s all there for the suddenly streaking Blueshirts, who won a season high fifth in a row to make it nine of their last 10. They’re now 12-3-0 since the break and increased their franchise record road winning streak to nine. It took an unreal final period to do it. That’s how flat they were. It was as if they were abducted by zombies wearing Ranger jerseys. Or perhaps Chris Kreider gave some teammates the flu.

Even Steve Valiquette called them out during the second intermission by observing that they were sleeping. As he strongly put, you can’t lose to teams like the Canadiens if you want to make the playoffs. The shot total might’ve said Montreal 25, Rangers 20 through two periods, but anyone who watched knew better. They looked horrible.

With the exception of the bottom two lines, Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Georgiev, they got absolutely nothing from the top two lines. Coach David Quinn had seen enough. Late in the second, he finally started to change the lines in a desperate attempt to snap them out of it. Eventually, he took my suggestion of putting together Artemi Panarin with Mika Zibanejad for the rest of the game with Jesper Fast. Ryan Strome worked mostly with Kreider and Filip Chytil, who eventually was replaced by Di Giuseppe. Another big move that worked.

To hear Quinn tell it in a pointed postgame with no bs, he ripped into the top six for the same lackluster effort that forced him to switch it up. He praised the play of the third and fourth line. But made sure to note that if they get nothing from the top two lines, they aren’t going to be successful. Fortunately, the new lines came out much more engaged for the biggest period of the season. Something Joe Micheletti mentioned after the team’s third comeback win following the second period after trailing this season.

This was all about heart and guts. The character they have defines this together scrappy bunch. They’re never going to give up. Not under Quinn, who’s gone from a question mark to exclamation point in a month’s time. They have always played hard for him. Now, it’s all coming together.

No matter what happens, this is the most excited I’ve been about a Rangers team in over a decade. It’s because nobody thought this was possible and they are exciting. The league’s youngest team is the likable underdog without the bravado of Tyson Fury. They just find a way in these games.

The Canadiens played about as well as they could for better than 35 minutes. I was worried about this game and didn’t feel good about it prior. Before you blinked, Max Domi banked in a shot off Fox to put the Habs ahead 1-0 at 3:12 of the game. Jeff Petry and Tatar helped set it up for assists.

After the slow start, the lethargic Rangers took two penalties less than five minutes apart. They first had to kill off a Fox interference minor. Montreal had good setup time and got some good shots through on Georgiev, who was sharp. He had to be. Especially the way the Canadiens moved the puck around and got bodies in front.

It was his goaltending that was the difference. He made 12 big saves in the period that included an iffy Fast tripping minor which Joel Armia sold. Boy. Was Fast mad when he went to the box. Fortunately, both Georgiev and a solid penalty kill that featured a gritty Brett Howden (six blocked shots) got it done. As a team, the Rangers blocked 25. That also included five from the Warrior, Lindgren who played a great game. The 22-year old partner of Fox recorded his second consecutive two assist game.

If not for that number one pair (they really are), the Rangers would’ve been toast. Interestingly enough, when Howden was interviewed between periods, he said they were lucky to only be down one and praised Georgiev. He also noted that they had some things to clean up. He nailed it. They may have gotten nine shots on Carey Price, but none ever felt like they were going in. The Habs had the better chances and easily could’ve led by three.

While the second was more bland and defensive minded with Montreal sitting back, there still wasn’t much from Zibanejad and Panarin, who couldn’t even get a shot on goal. He was bottled up with Shea Weber and the attentive checking Habs limiting time and space. With Kreider again looking like a ghost due to the flu which obviously is ailing him, the first line did nothing.

Filip Chytil struggled and nearly finished off his own team with a blind giveaway that Georgiev bailed him out on later. Georgiev would also be forced to come out of his net due to Brendan Smith and lose the puck to Brendan Gallagher. Gallagher centered for what felt like a sure goal only to see a scattering Georgiev scramble back and commit highway robbery. He saved himself.

While the top six struggled, it was the play of the third and fourth line that generated opportunities off the forecheck. Howden centered the third line with Di Giuseppe and Kaapo Kakko, who continued to show improvement. He had two good shots on Price that he stopped. Meanwhile without Pavel Buchnevich for the second straight game, Greg McKegg again played a solid game anchoring the energy line that included Brendan Lemieux and Julien Gauthier. They did some splendid work. Eventually, Quinn bumped up Lemieux and Gauthier at key moments.

Flirting with danger throughout the middle stanza, the Rangers did a good job to kill off a bad bench minor. However, they were unable to grab the momentum. Instead, a poor pinch by Jacob Trouba trapped him. Phillip Danault and Gallagher combined to send Tatar on a breakaway where he made a terrific move by faking and then going double deke to the backhand past Georgiev for a 2-0 Habs lead with 2:59 left.

It felt like game over. The way the Habs were checking and Price was playing, it looked bad. However, the tandem of Lindgren and Fox had other ideas. On a rare strong shift, Fox made a great move and centered for a cutting Di Giuseppe, who finally scored his first goal as a Ranger.

Funny enough, I had felt he had been working hard and deserved a break. Go figure. His first goal of the season was huge. It made it 2-1 with 1:26 left and was the crucial response the Rangers needed. If he didn’t score, I think the Canadiens win. For as bad as they played, they only trailed by one. One good period and they could pull this out.

Everyone in that building knew about Montreal and their third periods. They have repeatedly blown games with awful thirds. Most have come on home ice where they have a losing record. Imagine that. In front of those loyal fans, who are loud and find any reason to get excited. They can’t win consistently at the Bell Centre. One of the best home ice advantages in hockey. I’d be shocked if coach Claude Julien survived. But GM Marc Bergevin assembled this team. How long can this go on up there? He should be held accountable.

The Rangers have been a good third period team. Especially since they returned from the break. It was like a different team in the third. Like a switch went off along with probably a few expletives from Quinn between periods, they came out determined to come back.

In particular, Fox was like a one man wrecking crew. He dominated shifts the way an elite defenseman can. This kid is something special. There was one shift where he patiently held the puck and moved in and tried to fake out Price, who didn’t go for it. He made the save. In fact, Price suddenly was making the acrobatic saves including a robbery on Zibanejad off a backdoor feed. The crowd got behind him. Let’s put it this way. It’s not his fault that team is so bad. They run him out every game. He’s starting to break down.

Gallagher took a pair of awful penalties in the offensive zone. First, he put his stick into Fox and tripped him up along the boards with Montreal attacking. Even though they didn’t score on it, the first part of the power play was good. I have no idea why Quinn had both Lemieux and Trouba out for the second half. Nothing got done. It was frustrating.

With Quinn putting together Zibanejad, Panarin and Fast while moving up Di Giuseppe with Strome and Kreider, they really started to work the puck below the Montreal circles. Suddenly, it was the Blueshirts cycling the puck effectively and creating chaos. They set up some very good chances. At first, Price handled the shots with his defense scrambling to help him out.

However, off a rush started by Gauthier, he slipped the puck to Panarin, who then backed up two Habs. They gave him too much space. Panarin wisely dished for a quick Zibanejad wrist shot that beat a slow reacting Price to tie the score with 8:54 left in regulation. The excitement I had over the goal was like old times. I knew as soon as Panarin passed it over to Zibanejad, he was scoring. It was his 30th of the season to give him consecutive 30-goal years for the first time in his career. Clutch. Gauthier also picked up his first point as a Blueshirt with the key secondary helper that made the big play possible.

Now with the game even, it was like a heavy weight lifted off their shoulders. On a great forecheck from Strome in which he nearly scored, the valuable second center kept the play alive by moving the puck to Lindgren at one point. He passed it across for Fox, who surveyed the situation and let go of a innocent looking point shot. It seemed to have eyes and take forever before sneaking past Price for the exhilarating game-winner 1:15 after Zibanejad tied it.

He didn’t do a lot. But without Kreider screening in front by occupying Ben Chiarot, Price sees the shot easier and the goal never happens. That’s the grunt work he provides when he’s not on the score sheet. The intangibles that some fans ignore. That’s why they re-signed him. He found a way to distract Price, who let the puck go through him. The replay showed why. It was a lot harder than it looked.

Now leading 3-2, the Rangers got a key stop from Georgiev, who didn’t have to do anything special in the third. But he did stop all nine Habs shots to make a strong case for another start on Friday night at the Flyers. In fact, with him playing well, I’d run him out again over Henrik Lundqvist. Go with the hot hand. Confirmed.

It was then that Gallagher lost his discipline again at an inopportune time. With the Canadiens pressuring for the equalizer that forced Georgiev to cover up after a good low save, he cross-checked Lindgren for no reason. The obvious interference minor penalty was called following the whistle. Boy, did they make Gallagher pay for his foolishness.

Needing a power play goal to get insurance, they were patient with the puck. With Panarin working it to DeAngelo at the point, he fired a wrist shot that Strome perfectly redirected for number 17 by Price for a 4-2 lead with 4:37 remaining. I celebrated like it was 2007. That’s how fun it is watching this team.

What a gutsy third period. It was gritty, gutty and showed so much heart and character. Following Julien lifting Price for an extra attacker, Strome scored an empty netter for his 18th. Ironically, it came in game 63 just like last year with this team. The only difference is he has an additional 25 assists for a career best 58 points. But yeah. It’s only due to Panarin. He hasn’t accomplished anything. Eye roll.

It was nice to see Georgiev pick up an assist on the fifth goal. He deserved it for how well he played. Marc Staal also got a rare assist. When the buzzer sounded, the Rangers had their biggest win of the season. Happy Birthday JD!

They will now play the first of two enormous games against the Flyers in an old fashioned home-and-home series. The first is later tonight at Philly with the rematch at The Garden Sunday at high noon. These will be playoff caliber games like the overtime win over the Islanders. It should be fun.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Phil Di Giuseppe, Rangers (easily could be Lindgren or Strome, but it was his play and goal that provided the spark for the big third, +3 in 10:34)

2nd 🌟 Alex Georgiev, Rangers (32 saves including some absolute thefts to steal the game)

1st 🌟 Adam Fox, Rangers (goal number 7 and 🍎 giving him 27 assists and 34 points with a +19 rating, Foxy stuff from the emerging Calder hopeful)

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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