Gauthier and Lafreniere turn the lights out to ruin Bruins’ Black Friday, Hunt makes an impact, Goodrow goes after McAvoy for dirty slew foot on Rooney, Marchand Panarin nonsense


Finally, the Rangers beat the Bruins in the traditional Black Friday match-up. Thanks to large contributions from their secondary players, they got the better of the bitter B’s defeating them 5-2 at TD Garden this afternoon.

It was enjoyable to watch them take apart the Bruins in a dominant third period. The latest win again saw the Rangers’ improved depth flex their muscles. No. Not Ryan Reaves. Instead, the key players were Julien Gauthier, Dryden Hunt and Alexis Lafreniere. They were directly involved in four of the team’s five goals including Artemi Panarin’s game-winner and a big insurance marker that finished off the punchless Bruins.

On a day where Igor Shesterkin was quite busy in a lopsided first period where he made half his 34 saves, the Rangers had the right response. After being outshot 17-5, they dictated the action by outshooting Boston 26-19 the rest of the way. That included a stronger second where they held the edge in shots, 19-12. Even though shots were even in the final stanza, it was misleading.

It was Gerard Gallant who got the best out of the match-ups in the deciding third. Not only did his recent move of Hunt pay dividends with a goal and assist. A key tweak in that final period results in the Panarin winner. Maybe it was a hunch. If it were, Turk’s instinct proved correct.

On a key shift that began in transition, Ryan Strome made a tough pass across for Gauthier, who was able to control the puck in his skate. In one sweeping motion, he made a perfect feed in front for a Panarin goal with 8:25 left. Had it been Hunt on the right side, that play never happens because he’s a left shot. Something Ray Ferraro alluded to during the NHL On ABC broadcast. It marked the first game on the network since 2004.

Less than five minutes later, Adam Fox sent Gauthier past a pinching Bruins defenseman on a two-on-one with Lafreniere. He used good patience waiting for the lone defenseman back to commit before sending the puck across for a quick Lafreniere snapshot past losing Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman (4 goals allowed on 30 shots). The goal was his first in five games. All five of his goals have come at even strength. That’s tied with Kevin Rooney for second behind team leader Chris Kreider, who has six.

Lafreniere’s fifth of the season made it 4-2 with 3:38 remaining. With how well Shesterkin is playing, that lead was insurmountable. Especially with how he denied them earlier in the contest. The Bruins aren’t exactly the Oilers. They rely too much on the Perfection Line. The trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak struck once in the second off a face-off.

That remains an issue for the Blueshirts. At some point, Chris Drury will have to address it. You can’t lose critical draws and be successful in the playoffs. No. It’s not too early anymore to talk about it. If they keep winning games, that’s where they’re headed. I’m going to remind everyone it’s only Game 20. They play in a tough division. With 52 games left, there’s still plenty of work to do. But you have to like where they are. A 13-4-3 record with 29 points is the ideal start for a team that hasn’t qualified for a true postseason since ’16-17.

The real positive out of the first quarter is how Gallant has gotten the depth players to contribute. It’s been the play of the bottom six forwards who have made a difference. We saw the other night what a true fourth line can do. Amazing what happens when the GM actually acquires gritty, high character players to fill that void. Isn’t it?

Ditto for the new coach realizing the chemistry the third line has. It took an injury to Sammy Blais to keep Gauthier in the lineup. It looks like he has a permanent spot. With two assists to set up the game’s biggest goals, the 24-year old former ’16 Carolina first round pick is blossoming before our eyes. He’s playing with much more confidence. Isn’t it astonishing what happens when an actual NHL coach keeps a line intact and doesn’t punish a young player for a mistake?

Who had Rooney and Lafreniere with more goals at this point than Mika Zibanejad? Who thought this team could win games without either Zibanejad or Panarin playing their best hockey? It’s almost like all the overreaction to the Pavel Buchnevich trade was just that. While he’s having success for the Blues which is nice, the team isn’t hurting. Adding Barclay Goodrow, Reaves and Hunt has had a positive effect. Blais had four assists before the ACL tear ended his season. They’ll probably make a move at some point if it’s needed.

As vocal a critic as I’ve been on Vitali Kravtsov, who scored number five for Traktor on Friday night in Russia, there’s no rush. If they can repair the relationship, so be it. There’s no reason to worry about that now. At the moment, the Rangers are paying good hockey. Believe it or not, it can be enjoyed without fancy stats like “expected goals.”

The only area that concerns me is winning face-offs. On that front, the Rangers didn’t get creamed in the circle. They won 24 and lost 32 to a good team on draws. That’s respectable. Bergeron did the most damage going 14-and-8. Zibanejad went 8-and-10 while Strome lost 6 of 8. It was actually Chytil (6-4), who was their best. He’s still got a way to go, but there’s been some progress.

In a first largely controlled by Boston, Shesterkin was under siege. At one point, to the shots were 17-3. That included the unassisted goal from Craig Smith. A play in which he undressed Jacob Trouba by skating around him and sniping his second past Shesterkin. Obviously, we’ve seen Trouba get beat one-on-one before. That’s an area he must clean up. Outside of that, he’s playing better than his first two seasons.

If they could’ve increased their lead on consecutive power plays, the Bruins might’ve had a different end result. Instead, the Rangers got key saves from Shesterkin, who was their best penalty killer. Sometimes, you need your goalie to bail out teammates. In this case, Chris Kreider and Fox. Boston went 0-for-3 on the man-advantage. Shesterkin stopped all eight power play shots. That wins in this league.

Having established nothing, the Rangers got a huge boost thanks to Strome scoring a late goal to tie the game with just 5.8 seconds remaining in the period. On a Hunt forecheck, he passed for Panarin, who quickly made a great pass for an open Strome who buried the opportunity at 19:54. Strome pumped his fist after it. He doesn’t score many because he’s primarily a pass first center. But it was good to see him get one. His third of the season proved critical. It gave them a lift.

Speaking of Strome, he’s been on a major roll lately. With a goal and assist, he increased his point streak to eight (2-8-10). Since the beginning of November, the key second center has 12 points (2-10-12) over his last 11 games. He’s only been held without a point once. The Calgary debacle on Nov. 2.

In the second, it was the Bruins who retook the lead thanks to what else but a face-off win from Bergeron. On a defensive draw, the fourth line was out. Unfortunately, Rooney was no match. Bergeron easily won it back to Marchand. He passed to a pinching Matt Grzelcyk, who easily found an isolated Bergeron for the finish at 6:51. Trouba moved over to play a different man. But K’Andre Miller didn’t switch. The Rangers trailed by a goal.

Despite being down for a second time, the Blueshirts picked it up. They applied pressure on a fragile Boston defense that isn’t that good. A stronger cycle allowed Hunt to score his second goal over the last four games. A Fox pass across for a low Ryan Lindgren shot rebounded off Swayman right to Hunt who slammed home the tying goal at 12:33. A simple yet effective play worked because the gritty Hunt went to the net.

On a good rush, Kaapo Kakko had Zibanejad for what looked like the go-ahead goal. But Swayman dove across to get the shaft of his goalie stick on the shot to rob Zibanejad. It was the save of the game. I know a few critiqued him for not burying the chance. But how about giving credit to the rookie goalie. It was a great save. If it was Shesterkin, our fans would be on their hands and knees.

A Panarin hi-sticking minor on Pastrnak off a neutral zone face-off handed the Bruins another power play. But they failed to capitalize. The score remained tied at two as the teams skated to their respective locker rooms. I felt pretty good about their chances.

The third was predictably tighter. There weren’t as many shots with each side getting seven through. Most intriguing was a play Kreider tried behind the Boston net. After receiving the puck from Kakko on the forecheck, he actually tried the Andrei Svechnikov lacrosse move. It nearly worked. Kreider thought he’d scored. He began celebrating to the surprise of both Sean McDonough and Ferraro. The play was reviewed. It clearly showed Kreider’s lacrosse attempt go off both goalposts and stay out. It was pretty close. That shows you where his confidence level is.

By that point, I was confident they’d get the next goal and finally win one of these cockamamie games. Sure enough, Gallant stuck Gauthier out with Strome and Panarin. The play he made to handle a Strome pass that handcuffed him was terrific. Somehow, he made the adjustment and sent a perfect feed for Panarin to hunt in with 8:25 to go. Splendid artistry.

Less than five minutes later, the third line struck. A Fox outlet trapped a Bruin to send Gauthier in two-on-one where he found Lafreniere who whipped a laser top shelf for a two-goal lead at 16:22. One thing about the former 2020 top pick. If he gets a great chance, he knows what to do with it. He was proven right in that fun postgame interview on his line. They got one to help salt the game away.

Leave it to the Bruins to muck it up late. On what was an absolutely reckless play, top defenseman Charlie McAvoy stuck his leg out and took out Rooney. That created an immediate response from Fox, who gave McAvoy a cross check. Barclay Goodrow responded with a two-hander that got called. McAvoy went for tripping and Goodrow for cross-checking with under a minute left.

My issue is it was dirty and dangerous. This was another example of a slew foot. McAvoy was caught out of position and took down Rooney illegally. They already lost one player for the year on such a cheap play. Not as if the damn league cares. They’re too busy going after other guys who don’t have a history such as Kevin Labanc. Where’s the consistency? Any slew foot should be an automatic review by the Department of Player Safety. No more of this garbage.

I don’t think McAvoy is that kind of player. Maybe the game situation was part of his frustration. But he must have a hearing. It would be a joke if he doesn’t get a phone call for that crap. That has no place in hockey. They talk the talk about cleaning up the sport. How about walking the walk for a change.

At least Trouba scored into an open net from his own zone to put the final nail in the coffin. Screw Boston! It’s too bad we can’t get another piece of this overrated team until next April 23-24. How ridiculous is that. Who do they have scheduling these games? A clown. But don’t worry. You’ll get to see our team play the Blackhawks twice a week apart soon. The schedule is a joke.

One quick comment on the shenanigans between Marchand and Panarin. Why did he even respond to him? Throwing a glove at Marchand while on the bench is stupid. It makes him look juvenile. Point to the scoreboard. The overreaction that’s receiving is typical of how everything is covered. Marchand got what he wanted. A response. That’s why he’s The Rat. His commentary on it was funny. Anyone going nuts over this needs their head examined.

I saw someone Retweet some expected nonsense. Those are fake statistics that don’t matter. If you can’t enjoy what this team is doing, you’re in the wrong line of work. I’m very happy with the Rangers. Now come the woeful Islanders. Losers of eight straight. They’ll get some players back for Sunday. So, I expect it to be more interesting. Bottom line. Send them home empty-handed.

THREE STARS ✨ OF GAME

3rd ⭐ Alexis Lafreniere, NYR (5th goal of season for key insurance)

2nd ⭐ Julien Gauthier, NYR (2 assists including the primary on Panarin’s game-winner)

1st ⭐ Dryden Hunt, NYR (2nd goal of season and an assist)

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 New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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