In a game that lacked emotion, the Rangers came away with a 3-1 win over the Devils before almost a split up crowd in Newark on Tuesday night.
The win coupled with losses from Pittsburgh and Carolina moved them closer to first in the Metropolitan Division. With 11 games remaining, they trail the Hurricanes by two points and are four up on the Penguins.
Whatever happens in the fourth and final meeting on Thursday at MSG, it won’t determine where they wind up in the standings. With two home matches also left versus the Canes later this month, that could actually decide how the division shakes out.
Entering last night’s game, the Rangers were looking to snap a two-game skid. Less than their best in losses to the Islanders and Flyers served as motivators. Though they didn’t play great, the attention to detail was much better.
In a game against their Hudson rival, the Blueshirts used special teams to pull out the road victory at The Rock. Despite controlling much of the play early on, they were unable to beat rookie Nico Daws. He made some good stops to keep it scoreless.
Alex Georgiev got the start in net. He had a good night. Even if it wasn’t too busy, the backup made some key saves when his team needed it most. He finished with 20 saves on 21 shots.
This also marked the return of Ryan Strome to the lineup. He was back centering the second line with Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp. Strome made a difference. He had a big takeaway to break up an early Devils’ opportunity and would later factor in on the scoring.
With Strome back, Ryan Reaves was scratched. The first line remained intact while the third line had Barclay Goodrow with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. Jonny Brodzinski anchored Dryden Hunt and Tyler Motte.
Gerard Gallant made one change on defense. For the first time since acquiring him, he had veteran Justin Braun on the left side with Braden Schneider. The experiment went well. Braun made no mistakes while Schneider had one of his best games. That pair should stay intact for tomorrow which means Patrik Nemeth will again sit.
Early on, the Rangers held a 7-1 edge in shots. They couldn’t beat Daws, who was sharp. As usually happens when the opposing goalie is hot, the first big scoring chance you give up results in a goal against.
On a play in the neutral zone, Jacob Trouba turned over the puck. Yegor Sharangovich intercepted his pass and broke in on Georgiev to score a nice goal by going backhand deke at 6:56. It was unassisted. The 20th for Sharangovich.
But in a game that young superstar Jack Hughes missed due to a low grade MCL sprain that’ll keep him out the remainder of the season, the Devils lacked enough creativity to make it tough on the Rangers.
After falling behind before seven minutes elapsed, it was some physicality that turned things around. During a shift, Schneider caught Jesper Boqvist with a good clean hit that knocked him down.
Sharangovich immediately responded by challenging Schneider. It was a big mistake by the Devil goalscorer. In his first NHL hockey fight, Schneider landed some clean rights to knock down Sharangovich. After receiving an extra two for instigator and a misconduct, he never returned. I’m not sure why. It didn’t look bad.
For once, the refs actually got it right. An instigator was handed out along with a misconduct halfway through the first period. It gave the Rangers a power play. On it, they took 62 seconds to tie the score.
With Strome back on the vaunted top unit, he was the recipient of some splendid passing. It started with Panarin moving the puck down low for Chris Kreider, who made a one touch feed in front for a Strome finish to tie it at 11:07.
The Devils weren’t done taking bad penalties. Pavel Zacha reached around and grabbed Adam Fox in the offensive zone to go to the box for holding. It didn’t take long for the Rangers to cash in.
On another set play, Fox got the puck over to Panarin. He then passed down low for a remarkable deflection at the side of the net from Kreider that allowed him to become the new single season record holder for most power play goals scored by a Ranger. It was his 25th surpassing Jaromir Jagr (24), whose record stood since ’05-06.
It was also Kreider’s 47th of the season. With 11 games remaining, he needs three to become the fourth Ranger to hit 50. Jagr holds the record with 54 that also came in ’05-06. Just an amazing year for the emotional leader of this team. On the same day I voted for him for the Steven McDonald Award, he came through to make history.
After outshooting the Devils 13-7, the Rangers struggled in a lackluster second. In fact, they only managed one shot and didn’t forecheck. That was despite no Sharangovich. Jimmy Vesey would also go down when he missed Schneider on a hit and landed awkwardly into the boards. It didn’t look good.
Instead, it was the Devils who were better five-on-five. They were good coming out of their end and created opportunities both of the rush and on the forecheck. That included a good shot from Zacha that Georgiev handled.
He’d also make a tough save on a Nico Hischier try that went off the mask. It was a high riser. Those are tricky. His best save was when he robbed Zacha on a backdoor by kicking out the left pad against the goalpost. A splendid stop that kept the Rangers ahead.
Despite dictating the play, the Devils were unable to generate much else. They spent some time in the Rangers’ end. But full credit to our side for defending well. They didn’t give up much. Hard as it is to believe, the shots were 6-1 Devils over the whole period. Absurd.
Equally absurd was how putrid the Devs’ power play was. It has been an issue all season. They entered 26th having given up a league high 11 shorthanded goals. After Copp tripped Ty Smith, it was abominable. There were zero shots or chances.
In fact, the only chance came when Trouba sent a clear off the boards to put Strome on a two-on-one with Brodzinski. Looking pass all the way, he finally took the shot and had Daws beaten. But it hit the post. That prevented a 12th shorthanded goal allowed by a team that has zero confidence on the man-advantage.
I’ve seen Hasan rant plenty about their powerless play. It’s not hard to understand why. They give up shorthanded chances daily. Opponents attack them up top. That’s either Dougie Hamilton being added. Now, they’re without Hughes. The season can’t end soon enough for the Devils.
Even though they got only a Hunt long shot on Daws, the Blueshirts gained momentum from the easy penalty kill. They had no cycle in the period. It didn’t matter. They still took a 2-1 lead into the third.
Needing to step it up, at first they backed up. That allowed the Devils to generate a couple of more chances. But Georgiev denied Zacha. Then both Hischier and Tomas Tatar missed wide. The Tatar one looked like it would’ve been a sure goal. He wasn’t able to hit the net.
Following a Hamilton shot that went wide, Copp got the puck up to Schneider. After gaining the Devils’ zone, he passed across for a Braun one-timer that went through traffic past Daws for his first as a Ranger. Both Strome and Panarin were in front.
The unexpected Braun goal at 3:55 took the wind out of the sails of the Devils. Even though they outshot the Rangers 8-3, you never had the sense they’d score again. Not just because their offense was anemic. But also due to Georgiev, who was sharp throughout. Aside from his usual breakaway goal allowed, he made the stops and had strong rebound control.
They got one more power play when Fox got caught out of position and hooked into Jesper Bratt. However, the next two minutes were a waste in futility for the home side. They again accomplished nothing. I don’t know how it’s possible that Hall Of Famer Mark Recchi can be in charge of such a lousy power play. Wow.
It was the hard work and tenacity of the Rangers’ penalty killers that easily killed it off. Motte had a good clear and attacked down a man. He doesn’t have any points since coming over from Vancouver. But he works his ass off. One of these days, he’ll get rewarded.
With over 90 seconds left, Lindy Ruff lifted Daws for an extra attacker. The six-on-five didn’t last long. Tatar took down Frank Vatrano with 50 seconds to go.
That allowed the Blueshirts to close out the game. There were plenty of cheers from the Ranger fans that attended. It was loud. They gave P.K. Subban a tough time during the game. They got their money’s worth.
Afterwards, Gallant said the obvious. There wasn’t a whole lot going on. It was more defensive minded. Maybe that was by design. The Devils are better at playing the once. That’s how they won the last match-up 7-4.
This was boring. But a win is a win. It sure beats the losses to the Islanders and Flyers. Games where they didn’t play the right way. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t have to be.
When the Pens visit MSG, that’ll be more intense. Pittsburgh just lost twice to Colorado. They should be in a foul mood. Plus the game means something. They don’t want to fall six behind for second. I imagine that’ll be much more fun.
If there’s one disappointment, it won’t be on MSG. As much as I get on the telecasts, it sure is better than watching on ESPN Plus. Ugh. I’ll have to put it on my Tablet to watch. Hopefully, it’s another playoff style game. Exactly what I prefer.
Henrik Lundqvist was part of last night’s broadcast. It’s so much better when he’s in studio with Steve Valiquette. He isn’t pushing his analytics as much. They work well together and crack jokes. Plus Lundqvist doesn’t bs. He gives good insight. I hope MSG signs him full-time next year.
There’s nothing else to add. Congrats to Chris Kreider! I can’t think of a more deserving Ranger to set a new power play goal team mark. He’s worked so hard. It’s paid off. I hope fans vote him for the prestigious Extra Effort Award. Igor Shesterkin is Team MVP. Kreider deserves it.