Gauthier’s big goal helps Rangers hang on for win over classless Canadiens, Shesterkin with 31 saves

Some games don’t come easy. No matter the opponent, it’s all about getting the job done. Or as the late Raiders owner Al Davis said , “Just Win, Baby!”

That’s exactly what the Rangers did in hanging on for a 3-2 win over the Canadiens at MSG. It wasn’t easy. As bad as they are, give credit to Montreal. They played hard and made it tough. The victory was the Rangers’ 200th in franchise history versus Montreal. It only took nearly a century.

In the end, a big goal from unlikely hero Julien Gauthier during a strange third period made the difference. For one night at least, Stone Hands he was not. He looked like a former first round pick on a great solo effort to give the Rangers enough of a margin to earn the two points.

Considering how quickly the Habs responded when Josh Anderson put in a rebound as the Gauthier goal was being announced, it proved crucial. At 10-3-3, the Rangers are in first place so far with 23 points over 16 games. Even when they haven’t played lights out, they find a way. Something both Steve Valiquette and Henrik Lundqvist alluded to with John Giannone on the postgame.

That’s all that matters. Especially early on under a new coach. You want to bank as many points as possible. That way it’s easier to reach the playoffs. A goal of theirs without gritty forward Sammy Blais.

Barclay Goodrow moved up on the first line and had a solid game. He also got underneath the skin of a bitter Brendan Gallagher, whose selfish roughing minor with 28 seconds left proved why the Habs are a losing hockey team. Apparently, he was more interested in settling a score by sucker punching Goodrow with his glove on after a critical face-off. A grinning Goodrow laughed at Gallagher, who didn’t have the decency to drop the gloves.

Classless Canadiens. You saw a visibly frustrated team at the conclusion who aren’t on the same page. They got their asses kicked in the fights. Ryan Reaves beat up poor Michael Pezzetta, who foolishly challenged him following a Christian Dvorak tying goal early in the second period. Twenty-eight seconds later, Chris Kreider finished off a Mika Zibanejad pass for his team best 12th to give the Rangers the lead for good.

There was also Anderson deciding to go after Jacob Trouba as the buzzer sounded. After he gave him a shot, Trouba got in a few rights to score the TKO. That sent the Canadiens to the locker room. They came off like sore losers. Maybe that’s why they’re 4-12-2 in 18 games. It was a brutal way to end a game they competed hard in.

If that’s how some of the Habs’ locker room leaders want to play, it’s no wonder they’re such a mess. They didn’t help Cayden Primeau, who played a heckuva game. He started for a concussed Jake Allen. Primeau gave his team a chance with 31 saves including the best one coming when he robbed Ryan Strome.

The Rangers also got superb goaltending from Russian ace Igor Shesterkin. Mount Igor finished with 31 saves including turning aside 11 of 12 in a busy third until the final five minutes. His best save came in crunch time when he made a big reflex stop to deny a tricky shot from Tyler Toffoli. He was guarded well by Patrik Nemeth, but somehow was able to get his stick on the puck only to see a calm Shesterkin kick away the tying bid with over two minutes left.

If you want to be entertained, please refer to the video above where Shesterkin even answered two questions in English. One at the beginning and the other at the end. His thoughts on Reaves were classic. Asked about what he thought of him he remarked, “Good fight.”

Hopefully, his grasp of the English language continues to improve. If it catches up to his game, look out. He’s already earning respect around the league for his brilliant play. The Garden crowd have taken to him quickly. Similar to Lundqvist, it’s now the first name of “Igor, Igor!”, being chanted by appreciative fans.

Shesterkin got support from Kaapo Kakko, who again scored a goal for the second straight game. The breakout performance he had in the 4-3 shootout win over the Devils has boosted his confidence. Kakko was all around the puck tonight. He could’ve had a hat trick. That’s how much both Strome and Artemi Panarin found him.

It was the 20-year old who got the scoring started. After coming close previously, Kakko was the beneficiary of some persistence from Panarin. After he nearly had one which Primeau denied, he followed up the rebound and was able to find Kakko open for an easy finish with 4:14 left in the first period. Strome started it by leading Panarin. He picked up an assist on the excellent scoring play. His game has picked up. It looks like they have to consider re-signing him. We’ll see what develops.

Most of the game between the old Original Six rivals was wide open. Maybe a bit too much for my liking. In the first period, I thought the forwards were a bit lazy due to misplaying pucks. That allowed the Canadiens to attack and create chances. It’s a good thing Shesterkin was sharp. In a period where the classic rivals combined for 29 shots, Shesterkin stopped all 12 Montreal offerings.

Primeau was even better turning aside 16 of 17 Rangers’ shots. For a young player who hasn’t played in many games, the 22-year old son of former NHL center Keith Primeau was outstanding. He didn’t earn a star with the media selecting Christian Dvorak, who had a goal and assist. But in my view, Primeau deserved the game’s Third Star.

Although Kreider got him once to continue his torrid start, he could’ve had more. He led all skaters with six shots. That included a couple of chances early that Primeau handled. Kreider is shooting the puck and continuing to make a living driving the net. It’s been that formula that’s been simple yet effective. He’s up to a dozen goals in the first 16 games to easily pace the Rangers. Great production for the 30-year old unofficial captain of the team. He doesn’t need a ‘C.’

With their play having slipped at the start of the second, the Blueshirts paid dearly when a strong shift from the Canadiens resulted in Gallagher outworking the top pair of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren behind the net. It lead to a Dvorak tally in front that tied the game at 2:17. Mika Zibanejad was the closest player to Dvorak, who had too much time and space to beat Shesterkin. It looked like a coverage mixup between Fox and Zibanejad.

Maybe that’s what made the timing of Pezzetta challenging Reaves so strange. His team just tied the game and clearly had the momentum. But the 23-year old rookie wanted the fight. All the experienced Reaves did was oblige. The result was predictable. Here was a kid looking to make a name for himself that took some heavy rights for his bravery. Reaves raised the roof literally as he went to the penalty box to cheers. It was his first fight as a Blueshirt. Look also what he told Vince Mercogliano on why he didn’t go after P.K. Subban. Told ya!

It definitely spurred on his teammates. After looking a bit foggy and groggy, they responded immediately. On a strong defensive play from Trouba, who delivered a good hit, he then gave Zibanejad a shove to get him going in the other direction. It worked.

A flying Zibanejad gained the Montreal zone and found an isolated Kreider for a nice deflection past a helpless Primeau at 3:50. Kreider and Trouba were all smiles with Zibanejad during the goal celebration. Just how they drew it up.

A few minutes later, they’d successfully kill off a K’Andre Miller tripping minor on a cutting Jake Evans. It was a good penalty to take because he would’ve been in. That was one of those careless turnovers from the forwards. The puck management could’ve been better. The Habs don’t score a lot. If you make mistakes in the neutral zone, it makes it easier for their transition.

I want to single out Miller. As tough as I’ve been on him, he’s been much better lately. He’s making good defensive reads and using his skating to jump into the rush. It looks like they’ve taken the handcuffs off. His strongest asset is his skating with the reach being second. He bailed out Trouba a couple of times in the game. It’s nice to see Miller show improvement. Let’s hope it continues.

This was also Filip Chytil’s return after missing a couple of games due to an injury. He was good in this one. With coach Gerard Gallant opting to have the gritty Goodrow play on the first line, Chytil centered the third line alongside Gauthier and Alexis Lafreniere. He was flying throughout. He nearly scored what would’ve been a great goal. But after a series of moves to get Primeau down, his wrist shot hit the crossbar. He also came back hard defensively to break up a play. I would like to see what he can do up with Zibanejad and Kreider.

Regarding Gauthier and Lafreniere, they both were noticeable during shifts. Gauthier could’ve had one early on, but was denied by Primeau. Lafreniere had two shots and made two good defensive plays on a shift including a diving block. Gauthier had four shots including his huge goal that proved to be the difference.

In the third, the Habs threatened to tie it still down a goal. Then, some hideous defense allowed Gauthier to score the timely goal. A hustling Gauthier stripped the puck away from Nick Suzuki. In one motion, he let go of a good backhand to beat Primeau right in front for his first goal unassisted at 1:56. It was well deserved for a player who’s been showing improvement since getting back in the lineup.

Before you could even relax or Rangers’ PA announcer Joe Tolleson could finish announcing the Gauthier goal, here came the Habs in transition. After a Chris Wideman outlet, Dvorak gained the zone and let go of a low shot that Shesterkin gave up a rebound on. Anderson made a good play to get his stick on the loose puck and beat Shesterkin to make it a one-goal game only 22 seconds later.

Of course it wouldn’t come easy. But a Wideman tripping minor with just over eight minutes left helped settle the Rangers down. Even though their only full power play didn’t connect, they picked it up down the stretch.

In fact, outside of an iffy turnover from rookie Nils Lundkvist at five-on-five, the Blueshirts locked down the neutral zone. Playing smart defensively, they gave up almost nothing the last five minutes. The one Toffoli opportunity was out of effort with him able to get the shot off which Shesterkin strongly denied. That was it.

Twice, Primeau went to the Montreal bench. The second time is when Gallagher got into a heated exchange with Goodrow before a face-off outside the Ranger zone. Whether it stemmed from the recent Stanley Cup or whatever, Goodrow got the better of Gallagher, who lost his cool by taking an unnecessary roughing minor and earning a misconduct to hit the showers early.

Rewarded a power play with less than half a minute remaining, the Rangers were only too happy to play keep away. A Panarin turnover allowed the desperate Habs one final push. But the shot went wide. Then as the Rangers got ready to celebrate, all hell broke loose behind the net.

Anderson and Trouba came together. Another pest, he gave Trouba a shot when he didn’t expect it. Trouba responded by making Anderson eat some rights. He earned it for acting like a baby.

Next up are the Maple Leafs. They’re playing very well behind Jack Campbell. Mitch Marner has gotten going and William Nylander is hot. There’s also Auston Matthews and John Tavares. Plus Morgan Rielly. The game on Thursday is up north. It should be a good test.


3rd 🌟 K’Andre Miller, NYR (2 SOG, 2 blocks, strong defensively, +1 in 19:48)

2nd 🌟 Cayden Primeau, MTL (31 saves on 34 shots including some gems)

1st 🌟 Julien Gauthier, NYR (1st of season for game-winner, 4 SOG in 11:34)

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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