Sometimes, the best way to get revenge is on the scoreboard. In a tight checking rematch that featured some big time goaltending from Keith Kinkaid with the game up for grabs, the Rangers got revenge against Brenden Dillon thanks to Mika Zibanejad scoring his biggest goal of the season. His unassisted goal in which he stripped Dillon and fired a pea past Ilya Samsonov with 2:32 left in regulation gave them a well deserved 3-1 victory over the Caps.
Similar to Friday’s one-goal gut wrenching loss due to Alexander Ovechkin, this was a defensive battle between old Patrick Division rivals. In fact, only one goal was scored during the first two periods. It came courtesy of leading scorer Pavel Buchnevich, who finished off an Adam Fox feed for his 11th with 2:11 remaining in a tactical first period. Zibanejad helped set it up. He was the game’s First Star with his clutch game-winning goal and a helper.
This was better than the six-point second period in which he recorded a natural hat trick in a 9-0 laugher over the Flyers. The same team that got blasted by the Islanders in a rematch 6-1 on Long Island. With two points following their toughest loss, the Blueshirts would soon pass the Flyers for fifth place in the East Division. At 13-13-4 with 30 points in 30 games, they trail the Flyers by three points. With the fourth place Bruins having their games postponed due to COVID, they trail fourth place Boston by six in the standings.
If they want to make a push, now is the time. Even if it seems far fetched, the reality is they trail the idle Bruins by six. That isn’t insurmountable with 26 games remaining. With the lowly Sabres coming in for a game Monday, it’s an opportunity to take advantage. Buffalo has lost 13 straight games. Of course, they haven’t all been in regulation. Since defeating the Devils 4-1 on Feb. 23, they’re 0-11-2. They have fired Ralph Krueger and replaced him with interim coach Don Granato. They play hard, but are fragile due to defensive lapses and undisciplined penalties. The key is to jump on them early.
Following Monday’s game, the Rangers will visit Philadelphia for a two-game series on Thursday and next Saturday. The two rivals have split the first four games. Then they close March with two more at the Capitals. A team they’re now 3-1 against. To be honest, they should be four-for-four. But Ovechkin willed his team to a comeback win on Friday.
When I’ve discussed the Caps with Sean McCaffrey of bluecollarblueshirts.com, I’ve repeatedly told him I am not overly impressed with them. I see a flawed team that can be exposed by a good skating opponent. Is it any wonder the skilled Blueshirts seem to have their number? They use their speed and skating to attack Washington’s slow defense. They also have limited Ovechkin from his office and completely shutdown the Capitals on the power play. With Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Jakub Vrana, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and John Carlson, they have capable players. But Evgeny Kuznetsov has had a bad season. The D even with Zdeno Chara isn’t great. I don’t view them as a playoff contender.
The Rangers match-up well. They continued to do a good job in front of Kinkaid until a key stretch during the third period when the Caps finally made a push for the go-ahead goal. Following another rebound goal this time from Carlson off relentless forecheck pressure that Wilson and Backstrom were involved in against a tired Jacob Trouba and Brendan Smith, it was gut check time for Kinkaid. Suddenly faced by an onslaught of Washington shots and rebounds, Kinkaid stood up to the challenge with his best save coming against Ovechkin on a difficult backhand from the slot. That sequence of stops set the stage for a dramatic conclusion.
It was earlier in the game that Dillon hit Ryan Lindgren from behind face first into the boards for an obvious boarding minor penalty during the second period. It was a dirty play by a cheap player, who obviously was seeking more retribution for Lindgren’s clean hit on Ovechkin. Ironically, when asked about the hit, Ovechkin took no issue with it the previous night following his heroics. That’s why he’s so highly respected. Obviously, nobody can say the same for Dillon, who fittingly turned into the goat of Saturday’s game.
On a matter of fact play where he was chased in his zone by an aggressive Zibanejad, Dillon got stripped of the puck and watched as the Rangers top center rifled home a wrist shot top shelf on Samsonov at 17:28. Poetic justice. I gotta admit when Zibanejad chased him, I was yelling at the TV for him to get the puck. Sure enough, he did and when he scored, I went nuts and screamed some obscenities that can’t be repeated in this space. That’s how pumped up I was to see Zibanejad victimize Dillon for the clutch winner. It was beautiful.
This time, there was no way they were blowing it. The Rangers closed it out in fine fashion. On a clear from Buchnevich to Ryan Strome up ice, he could’ve shot the puck into the vacated net. Instead, the very unselfish center saw Brett Howden ahead and passed it to him for an easy one-handed goal that lifted a heavy weight off his shoulders. Just his emotional reaction to the goal said plenty. It meant a lot to the hardworking Howden, who’s been playing better since being reinserted into the lineup. He had two assists recently and now finally has his first goal of the season. Good for him.
I really loved what Strome did for Howden. A total team guy. He knew how badly Howden needed that. Say what you want. Howden always works his butt off while playing on the fourth line and killing penalties which he excels at. He also has been drawing a few. He wins face-offs when called upon. I don’t know what the future holds for him in NYC. But I was happy to see him smile and get razzed by both Strome and Zibanejad.
What does this win mean? It was nice to see them bounce back after a hard loss. It’s exactly the kind of strong response that the Rangers must have to stay afloat. I would’ve loved to see the Kid Line of Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere get rewarded. Lafreniere came close prior to the Zibanejad heroics. He was set up in front. But a sliding Samsonov just got enough of his shot to send it wide. Kakko also had a great chance on front earlier in the contest. But his forehand deke was denied by an aggressive Samsonov. There also was a three-on-two rush where he wasn’t ready to shoot. Kakko must become more instinctive.
Overall, this is a good win that the Rangers can take with them. To prevail in a tight checking game where real estate was at a premium is a plus. It felt like something out of the John Tortorella Era. Sometimes, you have to rely on your defense and goalie to win low scoring close games. I think Steve Valiquette might’ve mentioned that on the postgame.
Give Kinkaid some kudos. He got it done. What a character too. You can tell how much be loves coming to the rink and playing. For Kinkaid. 👍😎🙌🖐⭐✨
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (11th goal plus 🍎, +2 in 19:59)
2nd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, NYR (scored game-winner with 2:32 left in 3rd, plus 🍎, +2 in 21:30)
1st 🌟 Keith Kinkaid, NYR (28 saves including 11 of 12 in 3rd)