Even the best players have off nights. For a 2:14 stretch late in the second period with his team leading 2-0, Igor Shesterkin became human. He allowed three straight Blues goals on three consecutive shots. The stunning turn of events quieted the home crowd.
It was a rarity for a great goalie who’s spoiled fans with his brilliant play. If you saw the three goals, it wasn’t only about Shesterkin. The Rangers stood around and watched including Adam Fox on a David Perron go-ahead tally with 16 seconds left in the period.
Suddenly trailing after two periods, they dug deep to put together an inspired third to pull out a 5-3 win over the Blues at The Garden. It was their 18th comeback win of the season. They’re tied with Columbus for the most in the NHL.
That’s this team. They never quit. Not under Gerard Gallant. On a night where former Ranger Pavel Buchnevich returned to MSG and got an acknowledgement on the video board followed by cheers, it was the Rangers who found another way to win a game.
They did it by showing heart. Even though they’re far from perfect as has been documented, the leadership on this team is good. Even without a captain, you know Chris Kreider, Jacob Trouba and Mika Zibanejad are going to keep them focused. It doesn’t hurt to have high character guys like Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves either when things get tough.
Buchnevich was kept off the scoreboard in his first game versus the Rangers. It wasn’t for lack of scoring chances. He had a few including a close call on a breakaway that his friend Shesterkin got just enough of to keep it out. Both grinned afterwards. Captain Happy is in a good spot with his new team. He played with Robert Thomas and Vladimir Tarasenko. Not bad, eh?
For the game, Buchnevich wound up with five shots and finished minus-two. I’m sure that’s not what he had in mind. But it isn’t always the way you draw it up. He also set up some teammates for some opportunities and passed on a couple of more shots. He didn’t pass up the chance to deliver a good hit on former teammate Adam Fox early. Something he wouldn’t have done a few years ago.
That unique storyline aside for the NHL On TNT, you had two good teams facing off. Or as pal Sean McCaffrey termed it, the Emile Francis Cup. An astute observation considering Francis worked for both teams. It was his work behind the bench and upstairs that got him inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Ironically, he went in with all-time great Ranger Rod Gilbert. It’s definitely sad that neither are no longer around. They mean so much to the Rangers franchise.
The game was a tale of two. In the first part, you had a playoff style battle featuring strong goaltending from Shesterkin and Ville Husso. The second part saw it open up dramatically when the Blues got three in a row on Shesterkin to set up the strong Rangers’ third.
It wasn’t dull. I could’ve done without the dreadful finish to the second that turned a two-goal lead into a one-goal deficit. The bottom line is they showed a lot of character coming back to end the two-game losing streak. Now, we’ll see if they can build on it when Jack Hughes and the suddenly offensive minded Devils visit Broadway on Friday.
Early on, the Blues did a good job controlling play. They were able to sustain their forecheck in the first few shifts. Despite an early 3-0 lead in shots, the Rangers kept them to the outside.
Dryden Hunt boarded Brayden Schenn from behind for the game’s first penalty. That’s where the Rangers lifted their game. They had a strong penalty kill to keep the Blues at bay. It shifted momentum.
It was not long after that we heard from the Buchnevich replacement Alexis Lafreniere. A more confident player with and without the puck, he got to the front of the net to deflect a Fox shot off Husso and then put in his own rebound for his career high 13th goal at 8:55.
A determined play by a young player getting better. Lafreniere is up to three goals and an assist over his last four while playing with Zibanejad and Kreider on the top line. He still doesn’t get many shots, but he’s thinking it more. When Wayne Gretzky praises you during a national broadcast, that is a ringing endorsement.
Following the Lafreniere goal, Tarasenko got his stick up on Kevin Rooney, who took it near the eye. The Rangers’ first power play wasn’t able to convert. Rooney would later exit due to an upper body injury. He didn’t play in the second period. It might’ve been due to blocking a shot. Gallant had no update.
Taking a one-goal lead into the second, the Blueshirts went back to the penalty kill due to an unnecessary Reaves interference minor in the offensive zone on Ivan Barbashev. Even though it wasn’t a smart play, the penalty kill got the job done. Reaves then emerged from the box and led Kreider for a quick rush and shot that Husso covered.
There were some opportunities to increase the lead. Twice, Artemi Panarin had wide open looks in the high slot and didn’t shoot the puck. One was mystifying. Although he’d pick up his level and wind up with three points including a badly needed empty net goal for his 15th, he’s still not shooting enough. If Gallant is gonna continue to play Hunt with Panarin and Strome, the Bread Man needs to think shot more.
Personally, I think Phil Kessel would be a good fit for that line. He’s on an expiring deal and stuck in Arizona. Even if his shots haven’t been going in, the 34-year old two-time Stanley Cup winner is still producing on the Coyotes. He has 33 points (6-27-33). If you stuck him with Panarin and Strome, he’d get plenty of opportunities and bury a few. It also wouldn’t cost much.
In the second half of the period, St. Louis picked it up. That featured K’Andre Miller losing the puck at the blue line to allow Buchnevich to get a clean breakaway. One on one with Shesterkin, it looked like he would score. He had him fooled, but Shesterkin was able to get Buchnevich’s five-hole trick shot to just push the puck wide of the net. It was that close to being tied.
The funny part was you could see him grin afterwards. They definitely exchanged some playful words. It wasn’t the only chance Captain Happy had to beat Shesterkin who got the customary “Ig-or, Ig-or,” chants from the crowd.
There was also a strange sequence back in the first where a back checking Buchnevich broke up a Zibanejad pass, but accidentally put the puck on his own goalie. Husso calmly made the save. Imagine if that had went in.
That’s hockey. I laughed. It was easy to see the humor in it. Don’t forget the rematch with the Blues is in eight days. Given the commentary made from O’Reilly about the game, there should be some juice to that game in St. Louis.
While this drew the usual overreaction from some of our fans, I don’t mind. Big deal. He has a point. The Rangers gave up a lot of quality chances. They didn’t defend well enough. The suddenly struggling Fox included. At least he got involved offensively. I think he’s not fully recovered from whatever kept him out prior to the break. It’s affected Ryan Lindgren.
Aside from the Reaves minor earlier on, the second was largely played at five-on-five. That was edge Blues due to their superior scoring depth. Although it didn’t materialize until much later, they were the better team.
Strome didn’t seem to mind. On a subtle play from Panarin where he threw the puck in front, Strome redirected it in one motion past Husso at the near goalpost for his 12th goal at 16:36. It was a nice play. A bit surprising he scored on it.
Ahead 2-0 with 3:24 left in the second, the Blueshirts were in good shape. Right? Wrong. Before you could even relax, O’Reilly scored 54 seconds later on a good pass from Brandon Saad. They burnt both Lindgren and Fox on the play. Something that’s becoming an alarming trend. The top pair has to play better defensively.
Over a minute later, Jordan Kyrou sent Barbashev on a quick hitter up the ice. He moved in and beat Shesterkin high glove from the left circle to suddenly tie the score. It happened that suddenly.
The nightmarish finish wasn’t over. On a good forecheck from O’Reilly, he came out from behind the net and centered for a David Perron one-timer that surprised Shesterkin short side at 19:44. Three consecutive goals on three shots over a 2:14 span.
Just absurd. The game changed. Instead of taking the lead to the locker room, the Blueshirts trailed. It was shocking. But if you watched, you noticed them leaving Blues wide open. They could’ve had a couple of tap-ins. However, the passes didn’t connect.
Following the crazy end to the period, the Rangers responded with a strong third. They’re used to coming back in games. So, it didn’t faze them.
Most revealing is that the tying goal came from an unlikely player. Patrik Nemeth was back in the lineup after getting a few days off to be with his wife after she gave birth to a baby. He played fine with Braden Schneider on the third pair. Even more startling was him getting his first goal as a Ranger to draw even at 7:27.
The play was made possible by Hunt. Although I’m not crazy about him on the second line, he brings an honest approach. He was able to pass in front for Strome, who had Husso down at a tough angle. He wasn’t quite able to finish. But the loose puck came back to Nemeth, who caught a break when his soft wrist shot went off a St. Louis player and in tying the score. Call it fate. It was a nice reward for the new Dad.
A Colton Parayko delay of game put the Rangers on their second power play. After moving the puck around well which included a rare Panarin one-timer that Husso somehow kept out, Gallant opted for his timeout with 43 seconds left on the man-advantage. The refs let him use it late during the stoppage.
Initially, it looked like they drew up a play for a Zibanejad shot. However, Kreider lost the offensive draw and the Blues cleared the zone. Undeterred, the Blueshirts transitioned up ice and got set up. Panarin set up a Fox one-timer that Kreider tipped in for his league-leading 18th power play goal. His career best 35th gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead with 8:20 remaining. Clutch stuff.
On the next shift, Jacob Trouba leveled Kyrou with a clean hit. However, that’s not permitted anymore. So, Schenn defended his teammate. Trouba was ready and obliged. Although Schenn got the knockdown to earn the decision, I love how Trouba plays the game. He’s become the most important defenseman they have.
No disrespect to Fox, who is among the league leaders in defense scoring. It’s Trouba who plays with the physical edge necessary that goes a long way in long series. Without him, they’d be soft.
Anson Carter thinks they need to add one more tough defenseman. He could be right. But Schneider plays the game similarly and shows poise for his age. If they are in the market for one, Mark Giordano makes sense. What would it cost if Seattle makes him available?
With the Blues attacking, Lafreniere slashed Saad to hand them a power play. Their third of the game was the best one. Buchnevich had two good chances in tight. But Shesterkin wasn’t biting. He denied him twice. Shesterkin also made another save on Torey Krug.
When they needed a big stop, Shesterkin was there. He wasn’t going to give up another softy. The Blues put 13 shots on him in the third. None got by him. The Rangers got two past Husso and totaled 14 shots of their own.
It was enough to win. It sure helps when your goalie is so cognizant. In a sequence I’ve never seen before, a hurting Lindgren was down after blocking a shot. In obvious pain, he was helped by none other than Shesterkin who gave him a couple of pushes to get to the bench. Astonishing.
With Craig Berube lifting Husso for an extra attacker, a Fox clear for Panarin allowed him to put it away with 1:52 remaining. He didn’t smile. It looked like he was more annoyed with himself. He hasn’t been scoring. By the end of the night, he had three points including his 15th goal. Maybe that’ll get him going.
Next up are the Devils. I mentioned the play of Jack Hughes. He’s been on a major roll. The 2019 top pick is now a young superstar who scores and sets up goals. He does things at lightning speed. You have to know where he is at all times. Jesper Bratt is also over a point-per-game. Nico Hischier is hot too. It should be a good test despite their record.
That’ll do it for now. Stay tuned for something fresh. Enjoy your Thursday!