Strome’s three-point night and Kreider highlight convincing 6-2 Rangers’ win over Bruins, Lafreniere picks up first NHL assist

Alexis Lafreniere waves his stick up to the very loud and supportive 2,000 fans who made a difference in the Rangers’ 6-2 win over the Bruins at MSG. AP Photo by New York Rangers courtesy Getty Images

This was way different from the last time these teams met. Playing without Artemi Panarin for a second consecutive game, the Rangers beat up the Bruins soundly by posting a rousing 6-2 win before 2,000 fans at a lively Garden. They made their energy felt and the Blueshirts fed off it by totally outplaying a listless Boston team that just lost 7-2 last night to the Islanders.

It was a terrific game by the good guys on Broadway. They didn’t show any carryover from the ugly nature of the Flyers game. Two nights later, it was a different team. They showed up ready from the outset by getting a few shots on Tuukka Rask and leveling their wounded opponent with some huge hits. Ryan Lindgren set the tone with a clean check on David Pastrnak against the boards that gave the fans something to cheer about. It was a chippy game where they didn’t back down.

In winning for a third time over the last four games, the Rangers set the tone by going right at a team that loves to play physical. Between the noise following the national anthem which a few players referred to including number one star Ryan Strome, and the huge Lindgren hit on Pastrnak, they were ready to play. Coach David Quinn even was surprised by how much of an effect the support of 2,000 fans had on the team. It was evident by how they responded.

One key was getting K’Andre Miller back. He really stabilized the defense by playing a steady game while paired with Brendan Smith. What a difference a young and poised player can make. The gifts the 21-year old possesses are special. He recovers quickly on plays and makes good reads. It helped big time. Even with Jack Johnson remaining in the lineup over Anthony Bitetto to work with Libor Hajek, the blue line was way better. That was highlighted by the very active Lindgren and skilled partner Adam Fox, who assisted on a pair of goals.

Alex Georgiev had an easy night. He wound up making 31 saves, but there weren’t many tough ones. That’s how well the team played. Both the D and forwards were on the same page. That made it a winning proposition for Georgiev, who did give up some rebounds in a busier second period. However, his teammates did a good job clearing the front of the net. Something that indicated they played with more structure.

As much as the victory was about Strome, who recorded his eighth career three-point game (goal plus two assists), and Chris Kreider (goal, assist to give him six points over last three), it also included some noteworthy performances from the supporting cast.

Start with Julien Gauthier, whose quick turnaround shot with traffic went in and out of the net so fast that the refs couldn’t tell he scored his second career NHL goal at 13:16 of the first period. It was a wise decision to surprise Rask with a good high shot short side that his teammates knew went in to halt play. Both of his goals have come against the Bruins. But this one came in a win. He seems to deserve a permanent spot in the lineup. That includes when Filip Chytil comes back and maybe Kaapo Kakko and hopefully Panarin. We’ll see what happens.

How about the improvement from Alexis Lafreniere? The top pick looked much more comfortable in front of the home crowd by playing a very effective straightaway game. In the same period, he nearly had his third goal when he stole a puck in the neutral zone and came in two-on-one and faked Rask out by going to a backhand that unfortunately hit the crossbar. He also almost set up one later in the stanza. At the start of the second, a nice drop from Kreider allowed Lafreniere to record his first NHL assist with a great pass that set up a Strome goal. The best Rangers’ center at the moment going high glove on Rask for his sixth at 2:32.

The only slowdown was when during a mix-up in coverage resulted in Brad Marchand starting a scoring play by dishing across for David Pastrnak, who in turn made a good shot pass for an open Patrice Bergeron tap in that made it 2-1 just 1:30 later. On the play, Smith made a bad read stepping up to leave Fox by himself. His snow angel didn’t prevent the pass and left only Colin Blackwell back to cover two players in front.

Interestingly, the game stayed 2-1 for a while. With the Bruins upping their intensity, they started to get more shots through. Georgiev made the key stops to keep it a one-goal contest. When the goalies weren’t busy in a period that saw the teams combine for 31 shots (16-15 Boston), there were plenty of physical battles during and after shifts.

Of course, Marchand was involved. He dished it out and took plenty of it from the Rangers, who weren’t going to allow the pest to get them off their game. Something he successfully did to Mika Zibanejad last time out during warm-ups.

The officiating was iffy. They twice got the wrong guy on penalties. First by sending Kevin Rooney off for an errant Johnson high stick. Then it was Marchand who earned a minor for roughing when it was really deterrent Jack Studnicka, who stepped in and knocked down and bloodied Lindgren during a scrum. Marchand did give Lindgren a crosscheck in response to a hit.

Regardless, the Rangers couldn’t take advantage of it on the power play. Too much deferring to Zibanejad for his usual blanks that either miss the mark or get blocked. Everyone knows by now what the top unit is doing. The other strategy is for Fox to get a wrist shot through with Kreider screening. The frustrating part was Lafreniere didn’t get out much on the early power plays. Quinn preferred to stick with his first unit even though Strome wasn’t a shooter. They made a key adjustment later that lead to a better result.

With almost every forward except Zibanejad playing well, you had four good lines getting into the Boston end and forechecking. That included the effective third line centered by Rooney which had Brendan Lemieux and Jonny Brodzinski on it. The fourth line led by Gauthier, Brett Howden and Phil Di Giuseppe was strong throughout. Just to note, they changed the Gauthier goal to Di Giuseppe. He must’ve gotten a piece of it.

Both bottom lines saw extended duty during the third when Quinn opted to rest Zibanejad for approximately eight minutes. The start of his shifts were 5:11 and 13:24 when he returned. A wise move since he wasn’t doing much.

There was more dirty work during a competitive middle period. They nabbed Lemieux for roughing during another scrum. It really was just a board battle. The penalty was questionable. The good news is that while the annoying Joe Micheletti tried to push the lame narrative that Lemieux can’t take those penalties while other more established players do with regularity and he says nothing, the penalty kill got the job done. They’ve really been a great unit. They allowed two to the Flyers in eight chances last game. But for the most part, have been superb. Credit the personnel and assistant Jacques Martin.

Off a face-off in the Bruins’ end, Marchand took a bad penalty when he carelessly high sticked Kreider to earn a trip to the sin bin. It was again more of the same as Quinn rolled with his five man unit. He watched Zibanejad have one-timers blocked or stopped by Rask. It didn’t fool anyone. It was a wasted two minutes off the clock. Lafreniere should’ve replaced Zibanejad by that point. At least Boston didn’t gain any momentum from it.

In the offensive zone, Nick Ritchie lazily tripped up Smith to hand the Blueshirts another chance with 1:18 left in the period. With it still a one-goal game, finally they did something thanks to the gritty Blackwell. On a Strome pass up top, Fox had his one-timer redirected in by Blackwell for a power play goal for a 3-1 lead with 1:08 remaining. That really was the beginning of the end for the Bruins.

On the very next shift just a dozen seconds later, Kreider had a sharp angle shot deflect off Charlie McAvoy and in for his team-leading ninth at 19:04. Strome picked up the lone assist giving him three points. Over the last four games, he has seven points (2-5-7). He’s up to 13 for the season. While a mistaken faction get on his case, it’s Strome stepping up his game while Zibanejad tries to find his. Right now, your best center is Strome. He’s doing it without Panarin. A positive sign. They’ve needed it.

By the end of the period, the Bruins were visibly frustrated. Before its conclusion, Johnson decked Trent Frederic from behind with what amounted to a dirty crosscheck. Frederic responded with a slash as things heated up. Each received matching minors and went to their respective locker rooms. Frederic was basically trying to goad the Rangers into bad penalties during the third. To their credit, they didn’t take the bait.

If there was gonna be a Boston comeback, it never materialized. Playing for a second night in a row after the Islander debacle where they got blitzed 5-0 in the third, they put up token resistance against a locked in Rangers. A Fox nice pass across for a Buchnevich tip in made it 5-1 at 1:45. It was a simple give and go where Buchnevich went unchecked by both John Moore and Jakub Zboril for his ninth goal.

They weren’t done. On a Smith pass for an attacking Rooney, he had plenty of time and space to center for a sliding Brodzinski, who was able to get his stick on the puck to score his first despite being tackled by McAvoy less than two minutes later. Just like that, they scored four straight goals to turn it into a laugher.

Nothing else happened. It was just quiet shifts by Boston, who may as well have skated with their tail between their legs. Although Marchand would convert his 300th career goal on a weak Georgiev rebound of a Pastrnak shot a few minutes later, that was all they got.

It was a very satisfying win for the Rangers. They’ll see the same Boston team again in 36 hours. The question is will the suddenly slumping Bruins show up at around 12:30 PM on Sunday. The game will be televised by NBC and called by Kenny Albert.

Thank God. Neither Micheletti or Sam Rosen even realized Zibanejad missed a few shifts by design. He didn’t look particularly good when he returned for a power play, turning over the puck for an easy Boston clear. Quinn rewarded some of the role players with a shift on the man-advantage including Smith and Rooney. Why not. They deserved it.

If Chytil returns, who comes out? I would think Brodzinski. But he scored a goal. They seem to continue to run out Howden, who works hard. He just can’t score. But he’s a center that can take draws. Though it’s been considerably less lately with Rooney establishing himself as a trusted checkout center. We’ll see.

Maybe Kakko will be cleared too. It’s not too serious according to MSG. As for Panarin, your guess is as good as mine. I would expect Igor Shestyorkin to be back in net versus Jaro Halak. A bit of a nemesis for the team. It would be nice to see them light him up and get back to NHL .500.

Enjoy tonight. This was fun.


3rd 🌟 Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (recorded 1st career assist, 2 SOG in 6 attempts, +1 in 14:19, played like a top pick)

2nd 🌟 Adam Fox/Ryan Lindgren, NYR (4 total assists, 4 hits and 4 blocked shots, combined +5 rating)

1st 🌟 Ryan Strome, NYR (6th goal plus 2 🍎 for 8th career 3-point game, 5 SOG, +2 in 16:12)

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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