This won’t go down as a classic by any stretch. Despite an unreal ending that saw Ryan Lindgren play the unlikely hero with his game-winning goal coming with 0.4 seconds remaining to lift the Rangers to an ugly 5-4 win over the Sabres, it wasn’t a Picasso or Renoir.
The truth of the matter is the Blueshirts played down to the competition on Hockey Fights Cancer night before over 17,000 at MSG. Apparently, many people wanted to see this game on a football Sunday. They drew more fans for the lowly Sabres than better competition. Strange but true.
Any time they honor the courageous people who have battled cancer, it’s special. This is probably the best thing the NHL does. Hockey Fights Cancer is meaningful. So many have fought it and lost the fight. Those who have survived are heroes in every sense. They deserve the recognition they receive. It’s why I support the Jimmy V Foundation every year.
In a memorable speech at the 1993 ESPY’s, Jim Valvano said, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are gonna last forever.”
The moving speech still gets to me all these years later. I’m glad they have that doubleheader at The Garden and honor Jimmy V. When the big night returns soon, they’ll dedicate it to Dick Vitale. The longtime ESPN college basketball analyst is battling lymphoma. You know there won’t be a dry eye in the house on December 7. I really love and respect Dickie V. He will call his first game Tuesday night when Gonzaga faces UCLA. Good for him!
Normally, I’d never waste that amount of space on basketball in a hockey blog. But the whole Hockey Fights Cancer night got me going. It made me think about why it’s so crucial to have such special games. If you can donate money to a charity like Cancer research, please do. It’s a worthy cause. I try to do so for that and less fortunate kids at St. Jude.
Sometimes, sports takes a back seat. Now for the game. I’m glad the Rangers found a way to win over Buffalo. It would’ve been embarrassing to lose to them. No disrespect meant. The Sabres play hard for coach Don Granato. That much is apparent. They give it their all. They just aren’t good. The abysmal defense on the Lindgren goal was proof. You cannot allow that to happen when you’re so close to getting a point. It was truly an awful way to lose a game.
At the end of the day, the right team won. Take the two points and move on to the next one. That’s going to be quite interesting when the Rangers visit UBS Arena for the first time to renew a 50 Year old rivalry with the skidding Islanders. They are 0 for 2 at their new arena in Belmont. Having been shutout by Toronto on only 20 shots, you know they’re going to be angry when this big Turkey Eve game is played. Don’t forget it’s the Islanders down several regulars with Brock Nelson leaving tonight’s game with an unknown injury. The bottom line is the Rangers better go into that new arena and get the win. No excuses.
How do you describe a game that went from being tied 2-2 to suddenly 4-all when both New York teams combined to score four consecutive goals within a 1:22 span? Absurd. There was no defense or anything remotely good about the hockey during that putrid stretch in the second period.
In general, the entire second was a calamity. So too was troubled backup Alex Georgiev, whose play has gotten worse this season. It wasn’t that good to begin with in ’21. For whatever reason, Gerard Gallant went to Georgiev for the game after his team had some extra rest due to COVID canceling the Ottawa game. Still, you would’ve expected a better performance not just from Georgiev, but the team overall. They weren’t good. For the fans who gave a Broadway cheer after Igor Shesterkin made a rare save in a lopsided third, don’t ignore the way the team played. It wasn’t good enough.
For all the Georgiev hate, it feels a bit insincere for fans to do that. He’s part of the team at least for now. Does he need to be better? Absolutely. Seeing him shake his head after a long Rasmus Dahlin shot snuck past him to give the Sabres the lead at 4-3 was disheartening. That was the only real soft goal.
It was late in a mind numbing, sleep inducing first period that Rasmus Asplund was allowed to put in a Zemgus Girgensons rebound with Kaapo Kakko in the box for holding. But a very effective Filip Chytil drew an interference minor on Jacob Bryson with under 60 seconds left. Artemi Panarin made a perfect centering feed for a Chris Kreider one-timer in the slot past Buffalo third stringer Aaron Dell at 19:37. It was the team-leading 13th for Kreider, who set a new career high with his eighth power play goal in just his 18th game. He’s been phenomenal.
The second was strange. Speaking of which, what on earth convinced Gallant to reinsert Jarred Tinordi over Nils Lundkvist again? Libor Hajek was recalled following his two week conditioning stint. He would’ve been a better option than Tinordi, whose lousy turnover allowed Vinnie Hinostroza to score unassisted at 2:26. It was a horrible play.
A few minutes later, a strong shift from the fourth line got the crowd back into it. I had felt that Gallant needed to put out Ryan Reaves to wake up the team. He plays with urgency as do his line mates. On a good shift behind the Buffalo net, Dryden Hunt drew a delayed call. On it, the Rangers held onto the puck for a while. Eventually, Jacob Trouba would score on the six-on-five when he was allowed to put in a rebound of a Panarin shot at 8:03. Chytil got an assist. He was their best player. Even though Panarin wound up with three assists, it was Chytil who was front and center during shifts. He’s growing. The goals should come.
Following the Trouba goal, things went haywire. On a good Panarin outlet for Ryan Strome, the second line center patiently waited before working a give and go with Kakko, who had all night to move to the middle and easily beat a helpless Dell for his third in four games at 12:07. It was a strong move from a more confident player. But the coverage on it was nil. Defense optional. That allowed Kakko to increase his point streak to a career best four games (3-2-5). He looks more comfortable now.
But before PA announcer Joe Tolleson could even announce the goal, Tage Thompson was allowed way too much time and space to fire a laser through a screen to beat Georgiev high glove side to tie the game at three 50 seconds later. Not only did he have a player in front, but Tinordi screened him. This was a brutal defensive sequence. Not much the goalie could’ve done.
Before you could relax, the Sabres made it two in a row when Thompson and Victor Olofsson combined to set up Dahlin for a clear one-timer from the point that Georgiev whiffed on 15 seconds later to groans. This was the one goal you could pin only on him. He was visibly frustrated.
Now trailing by a goal, it was the Rangers’ turn to respond quickly. That they did when K’Andre Miller had a shot get past Dell with Reaves in front. On this shift, Gallant had Barclay Goodrow with Reaves and Kevin Rooney. He decided to move Goodrow down to center the fourth line while rewarding Hunt by moving him up to the top line with Zibanejad and Kreider. Hunt earned it.
It still isn’t exactly a fluid situation. They don’t have a top right wing to fill the void left by Pavel Buchnevich. Unless Alexis Lafreniere improves or Gallant considers trying Julien Gauthier there after another effective game, it looks like an eyesore. Vitali Kravtsov would look good in that spot. He scored twice for Traktor on Sunday. He’s up to four goals already. It makes you wonder what they were thinking. At some point, Chris Drury must address this hole. Don’t expect it anytime soon.
The four goals scored over 82 seconds were a rarity. It’s not often you see that many goals over such a brief span. That’s how bad the teams played along with the goalies. Though I’d still say Georgiev only gave up one bad goal. Not three or four as some of the fairweather fans would have you believe. I felt after he was replaced by Shesterkin to start the third, they were disrespectful. Fans like that are part of why I shake my head now.
For two periods, the Blueshirts didn’t dominate an opponent that isn’t on their level. They let them hang around. All the Sabres had to do was steal the third for a win. It’s a good thing that didn’t happen.
Instead, the Rangers played much better in front of Shesterkin. They outshot Buffalo 13-4. Most of the period was spent in the Sabres’ end. They tested Dell, who made a few good saves to give his team a chance at the win. Despite allowing five goals including the crazy Lindgren winner with under a second to go, he played okay. Dell finished with 31 saves.
There weren’t many penalties called. Strome got nabbed for a trip on Girgensons, who definitely did a good acting job to sell it. No wonder Strome shook his head as he went to the box. It should’ve been two each. Strome for tripping and Girgensons for Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Embellishment). Good thing the Rangers killed the penalty off. Shesterkin only had to make one save.
As much time as they spent attacking in the Buffalo zone, the Blueshirts couldn’t seem to put the game away. Chytil was around the puck a lot. He wound up with five shots. So too did Gauthier, who looks like a different player. Their line with Alexis Lafreniere has been quite effective. I doubt Gallant will change it. Although I wouldn’t mind seeing Gauthier get a look on the first line. If not, try Chytil. But he’s showing improvement overall and even on face-offs where he went 5-and-5.
Despite dominating the period, it looked like the Rangers were destined to go to three-on-three overtime. However, some sheer determination from Kreider in the waning seconds changed that. On a play behind the Buffalo net, he outmuscled Thompson to free up a loose puck for Adam Fox, who got it to Zibanejad. Having previously been taken down, he made a perfect pass across for an easy Lindgren finish before the buzzer.
It happened that suddenly. Just a great play all around by the skill players. All started by Kreider. He didn’t get credit for an assist on the game-winner. But it was his extra effort that turned it into a winning play. O’ Captain! My Captain!
As nice as it was to see Lindgren get the goal, it was Kreider making a critical play. He’s been on it since the start. He’s always battling around the net. He also could’ve had another when his redirect of a Trouba point shot hit the crossbar. That’s how well he’s played. Even more, we’re seeing a different Kreider, who is coming back strong defensively. He deserves a lot of credit. He’s leading by example.
It’s always better to win than lose. Especially coming off a tough one-goal loss at Toronto. These are the games they need to win. You still gotta take care of inferior competition. It allows them to enter the big Thanksgiving Eve game versus the Islanders 11-4-3. That’s 25 points out of a possible 36. You can’t argue with the results.
Now come the Islanders. They’re struggling mightily. They have a hard time scoring goals and are making costly mistakes that wind up in their net. You know they’ll be up for this game. They don’t want to lose another home game and drop seven consecutive games. They already are getting booed out of UBS Arena.
I’m only going to say this once. The Rangers are the healthier and better team at the moment. They have two days to prepare. This must be a win. It should be in regulation. Given the recent history, I want to see Zibanejad, Panarin and Fox produce. They gave us nothing last year versus Barry Trotz’ club. The Islanders are down Ryan Pulock and could still be without ace defenseman Adam Pelech.
Just win. Nothing else needs to be said.
THREE STARS OF GAME
3rd 🌟 Rasmus Dahlin, BUF (goal plus 🍎, 4 SOG, +2 in game high 26:58)
2nd 🌟 Filip Chytil, NYR (assist, 5 SOG, 5 of 10 on draws in 15:12, really looking improved)
1st 🌟 Chris Kreider, NYR (13th goal including career high 8th PPG, hard work set up Lindgren winner at 19:59, the true captain)