It didn’t matter how they did it. The Rangers desperately needed two points. They got it by going into Philadelphia and defeating a shorthanded Flyers 3-2 in the shootout. Had they lost after allowing Joel Farabee to tie the game with 1:14 left in regulation, it would’ve been brutal.
From a psychological aspect, they had to have this game. After being unable to score on a four-on-three power play in overtime with Mika Zibanejad unable to do anything, they needed a shootout to end a four-game (0-3-1) winless streak.
Two players stepped up in the skill competition. They were Kaapo Kakko and tonight’s starting goalie Alex Georgiev. With Zibanejad continuing to struggle, coach David Quinn opted to go with Kakko in the first round of the shootout. The improving Finn rewarded his faith by beating Flyers netminder Carter Hart with a forehand shot. He deserved it. He’s been playing real well. Maybe it boosts his confidence.
Georgiev was a surprise starter. Quinn explained his decision during the postgame by indicating that they need him. It can’t fall on only Igor Shestyorkin, who didn’t have his best game in an exasperating 5-2 loss to the surprising Devils. Georgiev had a strong game. He finished with 20 saves and denied two of three Flyers’ shooters to pickup his first win shutting out the Islanders over a month ago on Jan. 16. He needed it.
There are two storylines coming out of this game. The first is that it was a lot better than the no show the other night. The Rangers worked harder and controlled most of this game against a wounded opponent. Even though the Flyers hung around without key forwards Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Jakub Voracek and Scott Laughton, it was the Blueshirts who played with more urgency. They even earned a big goal from second effort courtesy of Brendan Smith. Something that’s going to be needed the rest of the way.
The second theme was Quinn finally deciding to take Zibanejad off the power play. That even included a crucial part of the second period when they trailed the Flyers by a goal. Nicolas Aube-Kubel had scored in the game’s first minute when he was allowed to get to a rebound and bank the puck in off a diving Adam Fox. Fox logged a game-high 30:17. He and partner Ryan Lindgren were leaned on heavily by Quinn and top assistant Jacques Martin.
That’s how it’ll be without Jacob Trouba and until key rookie K’Andre Miller returns. He was a late scratch which meant the triumphant return of Jack Johnson. See what I did there? As if to remind his fans what they’d missed, Johnson took a lazy tripping minor penalty on Nolan Patrick on his first shift less than three minutes in. Thankfully, the penalty kill was able to bail him out. They were busy killing off five Philadelphia power plays. The special teams was needed due to some bad penalties from Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome (first two of season both in offensive zone) and Kakko.
The Flyers power play was unable to set much up without Giroux, Konecny and Voracek. However, give the Rangers credit for getting back to the aggressive style of penalty killing that has greatly improved a previously weak area. Georgiev only had to make four saves on the five power plays. He stopped 16 of 18 shots at even strength.
Following finishing off a kill of a Kreider hook early in the second period, former Ranger Kevin Hayes got caught flat-footed by Kevin Rooney, who was tripped up by the Flyers’ top center. Quinn sent out a top power play unit minus both Zibanejad and Kreider. This wasn’t a coincidence. He tried Kakko in place of Kreider and Strome replaced Zibanejad.
After a Flyers clear, the second unit came on. It included Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich with sparkplug Colin Blackwell. Also out on it was Alexis Lafreniere and defensive defenseman Anthony Bitetto. Given an opportunity to play on the man-advantage, neither Blackwell or Bitetto disappointed. After forcing Hart to come up with a save, Bitetto got the puck over to Buchnevich for a simple low wrist shot from the point. The gritty Blackwell got a piece of it to steer it by Hart with four seconds left on the power play.
Blackwell now has goals in consecutive games and five points (3-2-5) in seven games. He missed four. It can’t be overstated how well he’s played. The guy makes things happen. He might not be the biggest player. But he makes up for in heart and hustle. Think about it. This guy has two more goals and points than Zibanejad. He’s got as many points as Kreider. Neither were made available following the game. They didn’t deserve it.
Even though they were unable to take the lead in the second, Buchnevich got a golden opportunity to put his team up. He got in alone on Hart, but was taken down from behind by defenseman Ivan Provorov. That resulted in a penalty shot. On it, he skated in tight and went for the forehand deke. However, a very calm Hart shrugged it aside with over three minutes left in the period.
After killing off the remaining 30 seconds of an undisciplined Strome minor to start the third period, the Rangers took their first lead thanks to some extra effort by Smith. The character seventh defenseman was able to find some loose change in front due to a great backhand feed from Panarin to get his first of the year at 8:21. A Strome rebound set the play up. Then, Panarin did what he does. But Smith drove the net to put himself in position. Not bad for a guy who earns his paycheck as a physical meat and potatoes guy on the back end.
For almost the remainder of regulation, it looked like the Rangers would protect the dreaded one-goal lead. But after Flyers coach Alain Vigneault lifted Hart early for an extra attacker, his team made the most of it to tie the score on a crazy play. After a wide Couturier shot that caromed off the back boards right to Hayes, a sprawling Georgiev denied him. But Farabee was able to stuff home the rebound to force extras.
It was kind of unlucky. But that in a nutshell describes these Blueshirts. They can’t hold one-goal leads to save their lives. So, overtime was required. Most of our schizo fan base was worried about Georgiev, who hadn’t stopped a breakaway this season. He didn’t have to.
A Nolan Patrick (Sam Rosen called him Nolan Ryan 😂😆) hooking minor on Buchnevich handed the Rangers a four-on-three power play with 2:38 remaining. They stuck Zibanejad back out with Panarin. But by now, you know the story. The puck isn’t going in for him. He had one shot on goal that Hart stopped. That was for the entire game. He and Kreider combined for two shots. That’s pathetic. At some point, they have to be better.
Despite leading in shots 33-22 including 4-2 in overtime, the Rangers needed the shootout to prevail. In it, Kakko scored in the bottom of the first. But Couturier evened it. That set the stage for Panarin. The Bread Man didn’t disappoint. Starting out way wide, he smoothly skated in and shot a perfect wrist shot over Hart’s blocker short side at the end of Round Two.
That meant James van Riemsdyk had to score in the top of the third. He came in fast but couldn’t even it, sending his forehand wide to give the Rangers a badly needed victory.
Next up are the Capitals for an early bird special on Saturday. The start time is 12:30 EST. Originally, it was a night game. Due to the schedule, it was moved up just in case. The Flyers are slated to play the Bruins at Lake Tahoe on Sunday afternoon at 2 PM. If for any reason they can’t play, the Rangers could sub in. Hopefully not.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd ⭐ Brendan Smith, NYR (1st of season, +1 in 14:59)
2nd ⭐ Colin Blackwell, NYR (3rd of season, PPG in 12:59)
1st ⭐ Artemi Panarin, NYR (shootout winner plus 🍎 in his return, 8 SOG in 22:07)