Today was the birthday of Pavel Buchnevich. He celebrated his 26th birthday in style by making a bit of team history. Buchnevich became the first Ranger to score a hat trick on their birthday. A cool thing for the guy I voted for the Steven McDonald Award. I know he probably won’t win due to Team MVP Adam Fox. But if we’re talking about unsung heroes, then Buchnevich is that guy on this team.
In scoring goal numbers 17, 18 and 19 with the final one being needed as the Rangers held off a Devils rally for a 6-3 home victory, Buchnevich passed Chris Kreider for the team lead in goals. Both Buchnevich and Kreider got empty netters to clinch the team’s third consecutive win with all three coming at the Devils’ expense. They’ve now beaten the Hudson rivals five times in a row. With the final meeting of the eight-game season series tomorrow at 3 PM, they’ll go for a four-game sweep this week against a shorthanded team that isn’t on par with them.
No disrespect meant to the Devils. I think if you read Hasan’s critical post earlier, you know how bad it is for the Jersey side of the rivalry. After subtracting Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, Dmitry Kulikov and Sami Vatanen at the recent trade deadline, they are now without co-leading scorers Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt. So, the Rangers are doing what they have to do to stay afloat in the playoff chase. By holding serve, they cut the deficit back to four on the suddenly hot Bruins, who haven’t lost since adding Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar and Mike Reilly. Boston has an extra two games left. They also play tomorrow.
At this point, I don’t care who the Bruins play. That doesn’t matter. What does is who the Rangers play. All they can do is handle their business. That means coming away with two more points on Sunday in Newark. What they should’ve learned by now in two of these three games is the Devils aren’t going to roll over. They could’ve today after falling behind by four early in the second period when Artemi Panarin scored for the fourth time in the three games. Instead, they finally got to Igor Shestyorkin and made things interesting late.
So, they needed Buchnevich to score into an open net to record his first career NHL hat trick. Captain Happy was all smiles. Why not. He’s proven himself in a big year. Whatever decision they make this off-season, it’ll be an important one with Buchnevich being a restricted free agent a year away from unrestricted status. I don’t see how they don’t keep him. Losing a player of his caliber would hurt. He’s finally found the consistency that was lacking in the early part of his career. Credit David Quinn for expanding his role to include penalty killing. One that’s seen Buchnevich grow into more of a leader. His three shorthanded goals lead the team. Even if two are of empty net variety, the coach trusts him to be out in critical situations.
With a glut at forward, the Rangers will have decisions to make. Colin Blackwell picked up another point by assisting on a Buchnevich power play goal in a three-goal first period. For a change, they took advantage of some Devils penalties to convert on two power plays including a five-on-three where Ryan Strome scored a rare PPG in front. Strome is usually a decoy. But he moved into position to finish off a Mika Zibanejad pass that made it 2-0. The second line center had a good day too by recording three points (1-2-3). That included leading Panarin for an early goal 32 seconds into the second to make it 4-0. Panarin registered his eighth game of three points or more by tallying four points (1-3-4). That gives him seven points over two and eight versus the Devils in three games this week.
Following a better start from the Devils, who tested Shestyorkin early without success, it was Buchnevich who opened the scoring when he put away a Zibanejad cross-ice feed to finish off a two-on-one at 7:26. Panarin caused a turnover with a steal to set up the play. The goal came against backup Aaron Dell, who got the start in place of workhorse Mackenzie Blackwood. I think Lindy Ruff just wanted to give him an extra day off following Thursday’s debacle. You have to think he’ll get the start tomorrow.
Penalty trouble hurt the Devils in the first period of this game. After Brett Howden drew a holding minor on Damon Severson, the Devils were caught with too many men on a penalty kill. That means they somehow had five skaters out due to a bad change. It was pretty obvious listening to MSG radio analyst Dave Maloney call attention to it. It sounded like all five Rangers skaters let the officiating crew know. With both Severson and Nick Merkley off with the latter serving the bench minor, that gave the Blueshirts 1:16 to work with.
Following some saves from Dell, the Rangers kept the puck in on the two-man advantage. Eventually, Panarin and Zibanejad combined to set up Strome in front for his 13th at 10:27. By converting there, they still had a five-on-four. This time, Quinn went to his second unit which is gaining more trust. They had some good results recently. More of a shooting unit, they were able to get the second power play goal in 1:21 when Buchnevich got to a rebound in front and deposited his 18th for a 3-0 lead with 8:12 left in the period. Blackwell and K’Andre Miller notched the assists.
In a period that saw them outshoot the Devils 16-9, they could’ve had more. That’s how it went following a slow start. With three minutes remaining, Brendan Smith came to the aid of Libor Hajek after he was boarded by Nathan Bastian. Smith and Miles Wood each received matching roughing minors while Bastian got the extra two. The Blueshirts were unable to convert the late power play. Something they hadn’t gotten a lot of. In an interview with Michelle Gringas during intermission, Strome noted that it was a welcome change. He also knew they had two games without a single power play. He’s always a good interview because he has interesting things to say. I would love to keep him. But I’m not sure it’s in the cards. We’ll see.
Since they were going well with me listening to the game, I kept on the radio to start the second. When Panarin was able to take a Strome lead pass and beat a helpless Dell upstairs, I figured the game was over. How much can one tune in to see the same thing against a struggling opponent? Honestly, that’s how bad the Devils are right now. The Sabres could reel them in. They’ve played much better under their interim coach. Only five points separate Buffalo from New Jersey.
If the rest of the game didn’t interest me, it’s because at 4-0 up, I never felt the Rangers would blow it. Plus the Devils are so anemic offensively and had shown nothing against Shestyorkin. I wasn’t feeling well. So, I tuned out. In the back of my mind as I closed my eyes, I pictured a 6-3 win with the Devils finally scoring a couple on Igor. Call it intuition. I’m not a psychic or a fortune teller. I just figured that’s what the final score would wind up being. So, you can imagine my amusement when I logged on and checked the box score.
I’ll admit I wasn’t happy that the Devils got three in a row to make it a one-goal game. But it was predictable. You go ahead by four with hardly over a period played and it’s easy to relax. So, they sat back. We have to remember that this isn’t a finished product yet. It’s still a young roster. They’re going to make mistakes. It’s not like they’ve been consistent in the three games. They were lucky to escape Newark with the 3-0 win. It wasn’t until Panarin scored in the third that you felt safe. The Devils couldn’t solve Shestyorkin despite playing well. That happens in hockey with a hot goalie. And he’s definitely that.
After Mike McLeod snapped his shutout streak to make it 4-1 with under eight minutes left in the second, the Rangers took a three-goal lead to the the third period. Or as hockey historian Stan Fischler loves to say, “The dreaded three-goal lead.” He always said that was the worst lead in hockey.
I still have fond memories interning for Stan at his old apartment in Harlem on 110th Street. It was like a hockey library and train station being there. That was over 20 years ago. It’s hard to believe. I learned from the best. Without Fischler, I never wind up doing two stints at ESPN as an NHL researcher for Remote Production between ’00-01 and ’01-02. I lived in Bristol, Connecticut once. That was fun. So was working Devils production truck during ’00-01 before that gig. I have a lot of good stories to tell. For another day.
Taking a look at the third period, it’s easy to see what happened. The Rangers got careless. They had a lapse in concentration and it allowed the Devils to score twice during a four-on-four in 64 seconds on goals from P.K. Subban (who still can blast it) and promising rookie Yegor Sharangovich. It can happen that quickly. The opponent never wants to be blown out. Ruff wants his very young roster to work hard and not fall into bad habits.
They might not be all NHL caliber players. But you still have to play honest when facing the likes of Jack Hughes, Sharangovich, Janne Kuokkanen, Nico Hischier, Wood, Ty Smith, Subban, Severson and McLeod. The Devils boast some good young players and as much criticism as he’s received, Subban hasn’t mailed it in. He’s not what he once was, but still must be accounted for.
So, it became a game in the third. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Especially with one more against these guys in less than 24 hours. I was happy for Buchnevich that he got the birthday hat trick to ice the game. He deserves it. It wasn’t too long ago that I was very critical of his inconsistency. Plenty of observers felt similarly. Buch deserves a lot of credit for how hard he’s worked to become a complete player. Whatever money he gets in the future, he’s earned it.
It’s also nice that they had Kreider out in the last minute. It’s been a tough go for him the last month. Just being able to score his 18th into an empty net should help his psyche. The thing about him is he’s a sensitive guy who over thinks things when it’s not going well. The game doesn’t always come easy for him. So much of sports is mental. Maybe that goal will get him going. They need him for these final dozen games. No matter what that brings.
This is an exciting team for fans to follow. They are playing good hockey. They can score goals and get good goaltending thanks to Calder candidate Igor Shestyorkin. They can defend too when they play the right way. They are four lines deep and have three defense pairs now. Even if Ryan Lindgren (2 assists) and Adam Fox do the heavy lifting along with Miller and Jacob Trouba. The special teams are good with a top five penalty kill and a decent power play. They have the best goal differential in the division.
If they ever found their way in, the Blueshirts would be a dangerous opponent. I get the impression the Islanders don’t want any part of them. Not saying they lost intentionally. They’re not good offensively. But would you want to draw the Rangers a month from now? This is a better team than the one that got dusted by the Hurricanes in last year’s Play In Series. All they can do is continue winning and hope for help.
Whatever happens, let’s enjoy it. This team will be one to reckoned with very soon.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Ryan Lindgren, NYR (2 🍎, 3 SOG, +3 in 21:40)
2nd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, NYR (16th goal plus 3 🍎, 4 SOG, +2 in 17:48)
1st 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (1st career hat trick on birthday making Rangers history, goals 17, 18, 19, 5 SOG, +1 in 19:28)