Zuccarello and Wild spoil Lundqvist Night, Rangers again inconsistent in frustrating loss on tough call

There will be no debate. Henrik Lundqvist Night was a rousing success. Of course it was. The highly anticipated jersey retirement of Number 30 to the rafters of Madison Square Garden lived up to the billing on the marquee.

It truly was spectacular. The Garden always gets these special nights right. The Rangers organization is to be commended on using the right touch to honor the winningest netminder in franchise history. They did it right by having the last great goalie Mike Richter kickoff the festivities followed by Sam Rosen.

Then a very emphatic speech from former teammate Kevin Weekes before Rosen handed off to the calm, cool and collected Lundqvist. He never shed a tear. He spoke eloquently and with purpose thanking everyone. He did it with the class of a King while smiling and laughing.

If only that magic moment carried over to the game. Similar to Thursday night, the game started off well. In fact, they played a very good first period to take a two-goal lead to the locker room. Instead of building on the goals scored by Barclay Goodrow (career high 10) and Chris Kreider (league-leading 31st), they forgot to play the second period.

This one was on them. For a second consecutive night, they let an opponent back in a game and it cost them. After outplaying the Wild by a good margin in an energetic opening period, the Blueshirts fell apart. Minnesota carried the play for large stretches. Their two-goal period turned around the game.

The end result was a bitter 3-2 loss at MSG. It had a gut wrenching conclusion. An apparent tying goal was waved off by ref Jon McIsaac. On a wild sequence that saw former Lundqvist pupil Cam Talbot stop Mika Zibanejad in front, both Zibanejad and Ryan Strome went for the loose puck. But as it got put in over the goal line, McIsaac had already blown the whistle to negate the tying goal with less than two seconds left in regulation.

It was his contention that the play wasn’t a goal due to Strome’s stick pushing Talbot’s pad into the net. After a video review, they upheld the call on the ice. While it was confusing due to the rule, they did put up a video of Strome making contact with Talbot. However, it also appeared that he helped sell it. Was it the right call? By the letter of the law, probably. Was it debatable? If you asked Zibanejad as one reporter tried to, he didn’t agree before declining any further comment.

Pete Blackburn of Bally Sports had the best view in his Tweet. Strome does make contact with the goalie pad of Talbot. The interesting part is the puck was not in the vicinity. It was put in afterwards by Zibanejad at the 3.1 mark following the Strome push. I guess in the end, I have to side with McIsaac. Somehow, he got it right. Despite my assertion that I thought the Rangers were robbed, he got it right.

It was definitely hard to tell watching it. Even after Rosen noticed the contact with help from the MSG production truck. As fans of this team, we get emotional. Sometimes, we see things with our hearts instead of our heads. The irony is I replied to Jamie Hersch in a kidding fashion by remarking that nobody understands the rule. Only to get a serious reply from some expert Wild fan with no sense of humor. At that point, I didn’t care. The game was over. Some fans can be pretty arrogant. It was a lost cause.

I am going to echo what coach Gerard Gallant said in the postgame. That isn’t why they lost. The bottom line is the last six periods, they haven’t been consistent enough. Not at five-on-five. Not offensively or defensively. Even having Igor Shesterkin didn’t help them beat a very good Wild team who people are sleeping on. And isn’t it poetic that old Lundqvist friend Mats Zuccarello played a big part in the Minnesota victory? He notched the tying power play goal and helped set up Frederick Gaudreau’s winner.

For all the experts who pinned the Columbus loss on Alex Georgiev, who I’m not thrilled with, defense and lack of discipline again were their undoing. Even prior to Kevin Fiala and Zuccarello scoring goals 1:29 apart in the second half of the middle stanza, you had Ryan Lindgren screw up on a pinch in that allowed Gaudreau to draw a penalty shot when rookie partner Braden Schneider held him from behind.

Igor Shesterkin stops Frederick Gaudreau on a penalty shot. Video taken by Derek Felix courtesy MSG Network.

In a fitting moment made for The Garden, Shesterkin patiently outwaited Gaudreau before easily denying his backhand in tight to keep the Rangers ahead by two at the 2:56 mark of the second. Rather than grab back the momentum after a clutch save from their Vezina candidate, they did a whole lot of nothing. Unacceptable.

Give the Wild credit. They battled hard. That included Zuccarello and Strome getting into it during a scrum in front of the benches. Strome gave Zuccarello a cross-check. The gritty Jordan Greenway responded with his own to put both players in the box back in the first period. I thought that got Minnesota going. They didn’t back off. They’re a well coached hockey team.

For those pointing to no Adam Fox, who was placed on the injured reserve which means he’ll sit out the next two games and miss the Kraken and Panthers, big deal. Good teams win without their best players. It’s the NHL. If you’re looking for an excuse, look elsewhere. This team has won without Artemi Panarin and Shesterkin. It’s up to the supporting cast to step up in the next two games before the All-Star break.

It’s why I like Gallant. He doesn’t bs. He indicated that the call on Strome was okay. It went against them. But that’s not why they lost. They put themselves in a losing position due to the inconsistencies. The Wild outshot the Rangers 19-7 in a dominant second.

The Fiala goal was the direct result of Strome failing to get the puck out. Jordie Benn forced him into a turnover by standing up at the blue line. Ryan Hartman then drew K’Andre Miller before finding a wide open Fiala for an easy one-timer past Shesterkin. On the play, Jacob Trouba left too much space and no forward recovered in time to check Fiala, who got his 12th.

Trouba had an interesting game. He was good offensively speaking. He was in on the first two goals. It was a good Strome cross-ice pass for Trouba that allowed the default top defenseman to find Goodrow for his 10th in front. A Trouba shot would later carom off Talbot allowing Kreider to pounce on a rebound to build a 2-0 lead back in the first. If only the defensive side was better. This isn’t a knock on Trouba, who’s been a tower of strength. It was that kind of game.

For all the good things they did earlier, you had the breakdown on the Fiala goal and then another undisciplined minor penalty on Alexis Lafreniere. His interference call that the pesky Hartman drew resulted in Kirill Kaprizov passing the puck across for a Zuccarello one-timer from the point that tied the game.

In a twist of evil fate, Lundqvist visited the booth to talk to Rosen and Joe Micheletti. As if to curse his own team, he was up for both the Fiala tally and then right before his close buddy Zuccarello scored, he said the kiss of death. “Don’t let this guy [Zuccarello] score.” As if he could hear him on the ice, Zuccarello scored his 13th on the power play to draw even. He’s always been a good player. Zuccarello fits in perfectly playing with the ultra talented Kaprizov and Hartman. The goal was uncanny. Even Lundqvist said he jinxed it.

The disappointing aspect of the second is it didn’t get any better. They didn’t attack enough. Lafreniere got a shot on goal that Talbot ate up from distance. The positive is when he played with Zibanejad and Kreider, Lafreniere had some good shifts. He nearly had Zibanejad for a goal. He also had a good chance to score, but missed the net. If he corrected that, he could be having a nice season.

Shesterkin made stops on Joel Eriksson Ek, Greenway and the pesky Zuccarello to keep the game even after two periods. However, he couldn’t prevent Gaudreau from getting the better of him for the game-winner at 1:49 of the third period.

A neutral zone turnover fueled a quick Wild transition. Zuccarello and Fiala combined to send Gaudreau in. This time, he let go of a wrist shot from the right circle that eluded Shesterkin. It was one he normally has. Only this time, he couldn’t bail out his sloppy teammates. It happens.

At the time, it was the very quiet second line out with third pair Zac Jones and Libor Hajek, who stayed in over recently recalled Nils Lundkvist. He looks to be further down the depth chart. I don’t believe Gallant wants to try a small third pair of Jones and Lundkvist. What does he have to lose?

I shouldn’t say the whole second line was bad. Strome set up a goal and nearly was in on the game-tying goal late. Goodrow scored again because he goes to the hard areas. He’s been a good addition. So much for the gripes from the misinformed analytics community.

Honestly, where was Artemi Panarin? I know he’s been on a roll lately. But he was all but invisible in last night’s game. He only had one shot and was minus-one in 19:26. Even on the power play, he was ineffective. He’s the top dog. In games like Friday against a playoff caliber team, the Rangers need their Bread Man to show up. I was disappointed by his game.

It wasn’t so much that they played poorly in the third. But that one mistake wound up costing them any points. With the Pens getting a point against Detroit, they moved ahead of the Rangers in the division. The Caps got a win at Dallas, who poetically retired former ’94 Stanley Cup hero Sergei Zubov. Well deserved for one of my favorite defensemen. I still am bitter over that trade Neil Smith made. Zubov only went on to a Hall Of Fame career helping the Stars win a Cup and nearly repeat. A great player. Kudos to number 56.

One thing the Wild did well was take away the middle of the ice. They played strong defensively. Even though they had eight shots in the third, the Rangers didn’t forecheck enough. I felt the lack of depth got exposed. When Rooney is your third center along with Ryan Reaves and Dryden Hunt in the top nine, that’s not a good sign. The fourth line of Greg McKegg, Julien Gauthier and Jonny Brodzinski didn’t play much. Yes. They missed Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. As much as I get on them, at least they can take regular shifts and make things happen. They’ll need both in the second half.

The Wild got 10 shots on Shesterkin in the final period. One that didn’t register was a long Hartman slapper that rang off the crossbar. It’s astonishing how well he fits in Minnesota. It’s almost like the Predators didn’t know what they had. But Nashville is also a good team. So, it worked out.

Miller fumbled the puck on one opportunity failing to shoot. He needs to be more instinctive. He’d later take a shot from distance that Talbot easily stopped. If he wants to improve his offense, he needs to think shot more. His partner Trouba has no problem firing away. He paced them with five shots in eight attempts.

They definitely missed Fox’s uncanny ability to smartly transition from defense to offense and move the puck smoothly. Of course they could’ve used him. He doesn’t lead all defensemen in scoring for nothing. Hopefully, the extra rest that likely means no trip to Vegas will be enough for him to recover for the remainder of the schedule post break.

Despite failing on the power play, the Rangers somehow got a great opportunity to force overtime. Unfortunately, McIsaac blew the whistle before Zibanejad put the puck in with seconds to spare. He had Strome for making contact with Talbot’s pads. I can’t complain.

At this point, it is what it is. For whatever reason, the Rangers rarely win these games. There’s something about jersey retirements that lead to poor play. I don’t know what it is. The fans were into it. So, you can’t blame them. Even if a drunken few sounded like amateurs interrupting Lundqvist when he spoke. God damn. Just shut up!

It will always be a memorable night. Lundqvist showed why he was such a likable star athlete. I loved Weekes referencing the stories he was told from NHL players who knew how good he was from facing him in Sweden during the lockout season of ’04-05. I also thought he showed a lot of class praising Rosen as the voice of MSG. You know it meant a lot to Sam. Weekes really was great. I hope one day he gets a job as either a GM or Team President for an NHL franchise. What a gem. Lundqvist really enjoyed what his first backup said.

I also enjoyed seeing John McEnroe present Lundqvist with quite the electric guitar. It was all Rangers colors. How about the special gift he got with all the game pucks from his 74 shutouts put together. That was cool. So too were legends Richter, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves presenting him with the traditional Louis Vuitton steamer trunk for luggage. You had all six alternates present him with three wine bottles by Vineyard 36.

I could go on forever on why I loved the ceremony. It wasn’t over the top. It was perfect. Lundqvist personifies calm, cool, collected and class. It’s who he is. I like the fact he admitted he wasn’t the easiest player to be around when goals were scored on him or following losses. That’s how competitive he was. I wish they could’ve won a Cup with him. They had their chances. I’m so proud of the person he is. Truly fit for a King 🤴.

Congratulations 🎊 👏 💐 to you on a wonderful career. We love you. ❤️ Thank you Number 30 for the memories. They will last forever. Cup or no Cup.

I’ll probably have more on the night later today. This went a little long. I wanted to include my thoughts on both the ceremony and the game. Lundqvist said one final thing that I really hope the current Rangers remember. They play for a great franchise in New York City. Enjoy it. Embrace the challenge. If they do, maybe we’ll finally have another Cup to celebrate. It’s a good core very capable of doing something special.

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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