A New Year’s Eve Bash! Goodrow celebrates return in style, Zibanejad beats champion Lightning in shootout, Rangers overcome sluggish start to end 2021 with a good win


This was an irate Gerard Gallant getting his money’s worth before a critical face-off with over two minutes left. He sure had his say at refs Corey Syvret and Graham Skilliter, who let him sound off. Maybe he knew the delay in which Chris Kreider was sent back to the bench for Ryan Strome was a key moment.

At the time, Barclay Goodrow had put the Rangers ahead 3-2 on an unbelievable deflection of a K’Andre Miller shot with 6:25 remaining in a strange third period against the defending champion Lightning. Despite at times looking disjointed including a total no show in a bad first period, here they were with a chance to beat the Lightning in regulation.

Somehow, they led by a goal thanks to Goodrow, who sure had a memorable day getting his Stanley Cup ring while catching up with a classy bunch of former teammates. He then got a nice ovation from the appreciate crowd who understood what he meant to those back-to-back Stanley Cups. Now, he looked like the hero for the Rangers, who were on the verge of a statement win even if the Lightning didn’t have ace goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

But there was still that defensive face-off. One that highlighted Gallant all fired up over how long they took to review who was on the ice. Of course, they were right. When the Lightning won the key draw, chaos ensued. Off a feed from Ondrej Palat, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos’ heavy one-timer from the left circle rebounded off Igor Shesterkin and took a favorable home hop right to Corey Perry, who buried his eighth to tie the score with 1:57 remaining.

Predictably, Gallant was fuming on the Rangers bench. His face was beet red. The perfect color for New Year’s Eve. It’s those face-offs that matter. Instead of escaping trouble and possibly winning in regulation, his team had to work a lot harder. Following a strange overtime that included a failed Rangers’ four-on-three power play along with some rare four-on-four and finally three-on-three, nothing was decided.

It was Mika Zibanejad who scored in the third round of the skill competition to give the Rangers a 4-3 road win over the Lightning in Tampa. After Shesterkin made a great point blank pad stop to deny the very tough Brayden Point on a series of dekes in the top of the third, here came Zibanejad with his more simple one fake and forehand high glove past Tampa backup goalie Brian Elliott to give the Rangers a good win.

Even if it was at times ugly and choppy hockey, they got the job done. It would be easy to point directly at the role Elliott had in helping our team mount a rally in a bizarre second period. Without two awful mistakes from the veteran netminder, the Blueshirts probably don’t come back to win. But Elliott was the Best Ranger of The Game in the first two periods. He sure helped the cause with not one, but two primary assists on goals.

After mailing in the first period where they only could muster three shots on goal, the Rangers predictably fell behind when Stamkos let go of a rocket for a power play goal at 18:21 of the first to put the Bolts ahead. Ryan Reaves got sent off for roughing Perry. He protested, but it didn’t matter. Chris Kreider was unable to clear the zone. Palat then passed over for Victor Hedman, who found Stamkos in his office for the hammer past Shesterkin.

Playing for a second consecutive night after getting blown out by the Panthers 9-3 when they had more of an AHL roster, the Lightning got back Elliott along with defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Andrej Sustr. Not exactly significant except for Sergachev, who is the third big defenseman they have behind behemoth Hedman (game high 33:27) and Ryan McDonagh (25:02). Sergachev logged 27:09. The irony being Darren Raddysh got 7:55 as the sixth D. He was with the Wolf Pack the previous three years.

Let’s just say Tampa had its top four which includes Jan Ruutta. Zach Bogosian was out with an injury. The Lightning have been winning a lot of games without Nikita Kucherov and other top players including Point, who missed significant time before recently returning. They skated without Anthony Cirelli.

The less said about it, the better. I’m fed up with the situation. What Hasan said about the NHL caving into the old mighty buck due to Canada is the absolute 💯 truth. It’s an absolute joke what’s going on. How many more games do they plan to cancel? One look at what was on the schedule the past three days and it defies logic. That’ll be my only commentary going forward.

If the first period wasn’t much to talk about, the second provided some much more interesting stuff. Even if most of it was ugly hockey, the Rangers took advantage of two dreadful Elliott misplays to get into the game. Prior to that, it could’ve been worse.

A very undisciplined hi-sticking minor on Zibanejad where he caught Point off the opening draw wasn’t exactly the start to the period they had in mind. However, a good penalty kill of the dangerous Lightning power play helped. They contributed by continuing to over pass to Stamkos, who only managed one low shot that Shesterkin kicked out.

It was a dump in behind the Tampa net that changed things. With an aggressive Julien Gauthier in on the forecheck, Elliott panicked and threw the puck away right to Alexis Lafreniere, who took the early New Year’s Eve gift and deposited it home for his seventh unassisted at 5:30. Every time he’s called it by fans including in this space, the 20-year old former top pick does something to silence the doubters. If only he could get a real center. More on that later.

If the opening period wasn’t much, the middle stanza had its moments. Gallant began tweaking the lines. In search of a spark with Dryden Hunt having a bad first period that included an offensive zone penalty, he decided upon Goodrow to play with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. The very curious thing is Goodrow got double shifted. After previously taking a shift with Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, he moved up to the second line. They looked better.

So did the fourth line which spent some time in the Lightning zone. Hunt was moved down to that line alongside Reaves and Gauthier, who was sparingly used. He got less than seven minutes. But did more than Filip Chytil, who really seems to be losing Gallant. He hasn’t done enough to merit consistent ice time. At this point, I’ve seen enough. There’s a good chance he could be gone by March.

Gallant also made one other notable change. Unlike Wednesday, he decided to move Libor Hajek off the top pair and down with Nils Lundkvist. You hardly noticed them. That’s a good way of saying they didn’t play a lot. In Hajek’s place was everyone’s favorite Patrik Nemeth. You know my thoughts on him. However, he gave a good account in over 22 minutes while paired with Adam Fox. Like Hedman, Fox also saw plenty of shifts and logged 30:51 including over 10 minutes of special teams. For all that time, he can do better than just two shots.

Speaking of Nemeth, he drew an undisciplined holding minor on Alex Killorn. It was a bad penalty by a gritty and skilled player who is that guy you hate if he’s your opponent. But love if he’s on your side. He once broke Ranger hearts a while back. The guy seems to get better with age. A good asshole.

While on the five-on-four, Kakko got nabbed for running into Boris Katchouk at the Tampa blue line. He was attempting to set a pick play. If you’re not subtle, they’ll get you every time. Kakko’s interference minor put each side on some four-on-four.

When it became a Tampa man-advantage, another ridiculous Elliott misplay allowed Goodrow to score shorthanded. He simply intercepted the dying quail and went backhand five-hole for an emotional goal at 14:30. Greg McKegg got credit for an assist on the play. No complaints about the honest effort from the Keg Man.

Suddenly up a goal without really having done anything except receive generosity from Elliott, the Rangers gave it right back. Late in the period, a turnover resulted in a quick Lightning transition up ice. Killorn made the play to Point, who then gained entry and found an open Ross Colton for a one-timer that went past the glove of Shesterkin to tie the score with 2:29 left. It was another stoppable shot.

Before the second was out, some sloppy play in their end nearly put them behind. A bad turnover allowed Perry to drive a one-timer off the crossbar. The puck then caromed out to Gauthier. Out of frustration, Perry tripped him up to put the Rangers on a power play with 46 seconds left in the period. A key Hedman clear sent the game to the third still tied.

Despite having over a minute left on the power play, they weren’t able to capitalize. After the Bolts got their kill, things slowed down. The teams played more defensive minded. Very expected in a tie game between two playoff caliber teams.

On a Rangers’ scoring chance, Hunt got into a wrestling match with Katchouk in front of the benches. After Katchouk gave Hunt a shove, he retaliated with two punches. It wasn’t much between the two other two minutes of roughing apiece.

There wasn’t much in the way of shots. The Rangers had six on Elliott, who managed to settle down when the crowd wasn’t getting on him whenever he had to play the puck. It was funny. The Lightning got eight shots on Shesterkin, who was sharper. He had to make a couple on Stamkos and also turned away Hedman on a great use during a four-on-four.

It was Goodrow who looked like he would play the hero. On a offensive draw won by Strome to Panarin, the puck was moved up to Miller. Having played one of his better games, he fired a low shot that somehow Goodrow was able to redirect past Elliott for a 3-2 lead with 6:25 left in the third. It was splendid work by the gritty former Bolt.

Unfortunately, the Rangers again couldn’t hold a lead. They simply haven’t handled prosperity well in third periods lately. With the Lightning pressing for the equalizer, Shesterkin made a couple of good stops in tight. But he had to face more.

Finally came the hotly debated face-off that drove Gallant nuts. When Palat set up Stamkos for that heavy one-timer past a diving Jacob Trouba who went for the block, it screened Shesterkin just enough to leak out a juicy rebound that Perry finished at 18:03. Tie hockey game.

Honestly, I wasnt shocked. The game had overtime written all over it. It was eerie and unpredictable. There was a twist before they got there. A Sergachev misplay over the glass while under pressure had Jon Cooper hot under the collar. He incorrectly felt that it was deflected. There also was an questionable icing that helped lead to the fourth Rangers power play with 1:14 remaining in regulation.

I thought at that point, they’d win it. But Elliott suddenly made a couple of big saves including one on a tough Zibanejad shot that Kreider deflected. He isn’t exactly a lights out goalie anymore. But his two clutch stops forced it to extras.

Still on a four-on-three to start, the Blueshirts simply weren’t able to cash in. In fact, the overtime was played very cautiously. The only two shots were from Rangers. Elliott stopped both. They had most of the puck possession.

The best chance came when Filip Chytil had Lafreniere wide open for what looked like a gimme. Instead, his pass was 12 feet behind Lafreniere. It was hideous. The reactions from irate fans told the story. Many are fed up with Chytil, who looks like another overhyped prospect. Lias Andersson plays harder in a fourth line role for the Kings. I’m not kidding.

Finally in the non-hockey portion, it was shootout time. In Round One, Shesterkin stopped Hedman followed by Elliott stuffing Kakko on the backhand. Then, Stamkos went for high glove but missed the net. But Panarin was turned away by Elliott.

It came down to Round Three. Point, who’s usually money in these big spots, came in with a lot of speed. But Shesterkin stayed right with him to get his left pad on the forehand deke to keep it out. Then out came Zibanejad. Everyone knew what he’d do including Elliott. He still couldn’t prevent Zibanejad from winning it with his trademark forehand deke top shelf.

The Rangers earned two points against the champs. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t a masterpiece. It didn’t have to be. Just a good character building win with the rematch Sunday afternoon on January 2nd at MSG. That should be interesting.

Happy New Year 🎇 ✨ 🎆⭐🎉

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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