Hurricanes storm past Rangers to capture Metro Division, Kreider wins Steven McDonald Award, Late comeback falls short, Copp and Panarin exit early for precaution, MSG broadcast disappoints


There’s a lot to get to tonight. In losing 4-3 to the Hurricanes despite being down both Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp the final two periods, the Rangers gave a valiant effort.

Ultimately, it’ll go down as a one-goal loss to the first place Hurricanes. They wrapped up the Metro Division by coming into The Garden and laying claim to their second straight division title. That means Carolina will be the first seed and likely face the Bruins in the first round. The NHL Playoffs begin next Monday, May 2.

There’s no shame in losing. Especially when Gerard Gallant had to scramble his lines once Panarin and Copp exited to protect minor injuries. It’s upper-body for Panarin and lower-body for Copp. If this were next week, Gallant indicated they would’ve played. Better to proceed with caution with what’s ahead.

Despite using only 10 forwards while the Canes had a baker’s dozen and the full allotment on the back end, the Blueshirts managed to slice a 4-1 deficit to one thanks to Alexis Lafreniere scoring his 18th at 18:58 with Igor Shesterkin on the bench.

They didn’t go down easy. Not on a special night where they honored the memory of Steven McDonald by having son Conor present the prestigious Award to a very deserving Chris Kreider. The NYPD Sergeant who followed in his late father’s footsteps, said he was very happy to see Kreider receive the award.

Emotions ran high before opening face-off at 33rd and 7th. The Steven McDonald Award embodies everything you want to see from a Ranger who goes above and beyond the call of duty like the many police officers who sacrifice their lives to protect this city everyday.

It’s been in existence since 1987-88. We all know the story of former NYPD patrolman Steven McDonald, who was shot in the line of duty by a teenager in 1986. He was paralyzed from the neck down and a quadriplegic due to the unfortunate circumstances. Somehow, he found it deep in his heart to forgive the teen who eventually apologized.

It’s that tremendous character and human spirit that made McDonald so synonymous with the fabric of New York City. I always looked forward to his speeches near the end of the season. He truly was amazing. Although he’s since passed on over five years ago, his spirit and legacy lives on in our hearts.

Seeing a homegrown kid like Kreider win the award was special. The longest tenured Ranger who’s close to the family, showed a lot of emotion when Conor announced him as the winner. In an interview with Dave Maloney during intermission following a wonderful first period, he teared up while speaking about how much it meant to him to win.

In a season where he’s been unbelievable, it was fitting that Kreider scored a goal during the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1. That goal gave him 52 for the season. He’s now tied Adam Graves for the second most goals ever scored by a Blueshirt in a season. With two games remaining against Montreal and Washington, he needs two to tie record holder Jaromir Jagr. Three to pass him.

It’s hard to think about anything else aside from how Kreider reacted to winning the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. There was a game that they lost. But to see him score a beauty of a goal by out maneuvering Pyotr Kochetkov for a sweet backhand tuck, that was magical. Poetic too when you think about what the true captain has meant to this team.

As much as we recognize the remarkable play of Shesterkin for where they are, Kreider has 52 goals. That’s insane! The next closest is Mika Zibanejad with 29. Where would they be without the consistent production of Kreider, who at 30 has finally gotten rewarded for all his hard work? 52 goals. 26 power play goals. 11 game-winners. 77 points.

It speaks for itself. Shesterkin is the Team MVP. Even if he allowed four goals on 36 shots against a tough opponent, he remains a virtual lock for his first Vezina. Something that would be well deserved for the electrifying 26-year old Russian. He made a bevy of big saves to give our team a chance. Of course he did.

With them now knowing they can do no better than second place in the division with a date guaranteed featuring either the Caps or Pens next week, it’s possible that Gallant might opt to rest Shesterkin for Game One.

Alex Georgiev should definitely get the start tonight against the Canadiens, who are coming off a very emotional tribute to legend Guy Lafleur. If you haven’t seen it, please do. It was amazing. A 10-minute standing ovation following the emotional video tribute which was perfect. The Habs care about their history and tradition.

I wish I could say the same for Madison Square Garden and the Rangers organization. They really did a former legend a disservice during the third period of tonight’s broadcast on MSG. It was abominable.

As far as the game versus the Carolina Rangers [six dressed including Antti Raanta as the backup], I had no complaints. The first period delivered some of the best hockey we’ve seen. Playoff intensity. Splendid goaltending. Great skating. Edge. Scoring chances.

At the start, the first good chance was created by Zibanejad. He skated around the net and fed Frank Vatrano in front for a good opportunity that Kochetkov denied in tight. For a 22-year old with less than two games of NHL experience, the Canes’ goalie prospect played well. Kochetkov finished with 31 saves on 34 shots.

Following some early stops from his younger Russian counterpart, it was Shesterkin’s turn to make the big saves. On a bad clearing attempt by Filip Chytil, the dangerous Teuvo Teravainen got in and made two fakes that Shesterkin didn’t go for. He came up with the clutch stop on a tough backhand.

Nino Niederreiter would later ring one off the far goalpost. Always a pleasant sound for goalies. Not shooters. Niederreiter would be heard from later in a different aspect.

While pressuring booing target Tony DeAngelo, who earned them in this one, Vatrano got his stick into the Canes’ defenseman to earn a tripping minor. That gave the Canes a power play.

On it, they had a couple of good looks. They move the puck well. That created a chance for Martin Necas, who instead of shooting went for the pass. It didn’t work. Then Igor stoned rookie Seth Jarvis, who’ll be seeing him in his dreams after tonight. He was robbed several times.

After dodging the Carolina power play, then it was the Rangers’ turn to finally get some attack time. It was quite memorable. You had Panarin put on a series of moves on proven shutdown defenseman Jaccob Slavin. With the crowd loving it, Panarin made one final dance move and nearly had Zibanejad for the first goal. Credit Kochetkov for tracking the play and making the key stop.

One thing I noticed in a high shooting period where the teams combined for 25 shots (14-11 Canes) is Kochetkov took away the bottom part of the net. That’s what most of these goalies do. If there was an area they could’ve been better at, it was getting traffic. They didn’t test Kochetkov enough upstairs.

Part of that was due to how well the Hurricanes defended the net front. They didn’t allow many unchecked Blueshirts to get free. There weren’t many rebounds either. They were kept to the outside by a well schooled team.

The refs then got tricked into calling Ryan Reaves for holding on Brady Skjei. He pulled the old Jamie Langenbrunner Special. That’s where a player pulls an opponent’s stick into them and gets the call. Langenbrunner was the master at that. But it was usually hooking.

It should’ve been two each. Utterly ridiculous. Not coincidentally, Skjei got a real tough shot on Shesterkin where the Canes peppered him on their second man-advantage. He stopped eight power play shots in total in the period.

Finally, the Rangers got a call. This time, Skjei was nabbed for a hook on Zibanejad, who made sure to sell it to the blind duo of Corey Syvret and the always unreliable Chris Lee. Lee has been brutal for years. I don’t bash officials often. But I can’t stand Lee. He and Syvret had a bad night.

This moment got to me. That would be a teary-eyed Kreider talking to Maloney about the significance of the McDonald Award. It was something.

Following a successful kill that freed Skjei, who had a good game, the Canes were penalized again. Jordan Staal hooked into Jacob Trouba enough to hand the Rangers a second consecutive power play early on in the second period.

If there was one noticeable difference, it was the aggressive nature of the Canes’ penalty killers. They really do a good job pressuring up top. The Rangers got a couple of chances down low. But passes for Kreider just missed. That was due to the Canes’ aggressiveness.

Then Necas took down Barclay Goodrow for a third consecutive penalty. This really was the opportunity the home side blew. Kreider had the best chance, but Kochetkov denied him point blank by closing it up.

Following that save, Adam Fox made a nice move at the Carolina blue line and got tripped. No call. He hustled to keep the play alive. But eventually, the Canes’ relentless pressure led to Sebastian Aho nearly setting up Teravainen shorthanded. Shesterkin made a tough save on a high labeler.

It was following that kill where things unraveled. The Canes really upped the intensity. They started forechecking and keeping our players pinned in. Eventually, it led to Vincent Trocheck breaking the ice after Ryan Lindgren fell down. Skjei found Trocheck open for a one-timer into an open side with K’Andre Miller caught in no man’s land.

It was following that goal where I was incensed. Fox was blatantly tripped. This one had to be called. But in typical fashion, it wasn’t. I know the power play stunk. But that should’ve been a five-on-four.

At that point, both Copp and Panarin were done for the night. I still would’ve loved to see what Gallant could’ve come up with had they gotten a fourth straight power play in that spot. They were only down a goal.

Of course, right after the miss came a second Canes’ goal. Fittingly, it was Derek Stepan who took a weird shot from the slot that took a funny deflection off of Jordan Martinook in front to make it 2-0 at 13:48.

Give Chris Lee and his partner the assist for blindness. They weren’t finished messing up the game.

Even with things working against them, you had a spark from the Zibanejad line. Twice, Kreider was stopped by Kochetkov. However, he would finally break through when off a broken play, he took a Vatrano lead and went backhand deke to slip home number 52 at 16:56.

But with the crowd that included Dad and his friend Tommy back into it, they fell asleep on the next Canes’ goal. Another subtle play by Skjei was followed by a tip pass from Trocheck leading to Teravainen finally getting one past Shesterkin high blocker for a crusher with 1:41 left.

That made it 3-1. With a few seconds to go, chaos ensued behind Kochetkov’s net. After Skjei got physical with Zibanejad after a late bid with a strong check, Niederreiter got involved. He shoved down Zibanejad.

Somehow, he didn’t get an extra for this. Instead, they gave Fox and him matching roughing minors. This was absolute madness. It’s some of the worst officiating I’ve seen this year.

Also getting involved was DeAngelo at the buzzer. He gave Miller a chop to the leg. This enraged the Rangers bench. Reaves came over and exchanged words with DeAngelo, who really drew the ire of the fans. If he wasn’t the enemy before, he sure is now. DeAngelo embraced being the heel. The boos were louder in the third.

Maybe the most disappointing part was that before they could get going, Aho scored his 37th only 32 seconds into the final period. He was set up by Jarvis and Slavin.

That goal really was too much to overcome. It made it 4-1. For most of the third, it felt like a glorified exhibition. The Blueshirts seemed to pull back while the Hurricanes finished every check. That irked me.

But in a game where Shesterkin made many great saves to keep it from being a blowout, the Rangers never quit. They never do. It’s not in this team’s DNA.

Even without two of their best forwards, they found a way to get back in it. On a good Zibanejad forecheck, he got the puck over for Miller who found Trouba for a long point shot that took a good carom off Jesper Fast. That made it 4-2 with 6:48 remaining.

The goal for Trouba gave him a new career high with 11. He’s one point away from 40. It would be the second time if he got it. He hit 50 for the only time with the Jets in ’18-19.

With no more penalties or nastiness, the Blueshirts kept coming at Kochetkov. Eventually with Shesterkin off, Lafreniere was able to put home a Kreider feed to make it 4-3 with 62 seconds to go.

It was a valiant effort. Even though they never found the tying goal, they forced the healthier Canes to hold on for the win. They made them earn it.

My biggest disappointment with the home broadcast was the complete ignorance of Bill Cook. They even put up a graphic showing that Kreider with his 229th goal was now ninth on the all-time franchise list.

Even Sam Rosen didn’t mention Cook by name. It’s like he doesn’t exist. This is an organizational failure from the top. They only care about 1994 and acknowledge the 1971-72 team due to what it meant to fans like our Dad growing up.

Believe it or not, there was plenty of Rangers history before Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield. It isn’t only Ed Giacomin, Harry Howell, Andy Bathgate (Dad’s favorite Ranger), Brad Park or any of the retired ’94 heroes we love.

How many of our fans know about Camille Henry being sixth on the all-time franchise goal scoring list ahead of Brian Leetch and Mark Messier? Dad could tell you all about him.

Without those who came before them, there are no New York Rangers or any Madison Square Garden at 34th Street Penn Station. That’s not where they originated. History is all but ignored like the plague by the organization.

Despite all the great things they do which include a night like tonight honoring Steven McDonald, the jersey retirements, the Garden Of Dreams, it is a total disservice to true fans of the team to not acknowledge the entire history.

The Bread Line of Bill and Bun Cook with Frank Boucher are responsible for so much of the franchise’s success. So is Lorne Chabot, Dave Kerr and Lester Patrick. Sean McCaffrey of bluecollarblueshirts.com has harped on this for a while. He has a book covering the full history.

They never even thought to honor Emile Francis for what he did restoring pride to the Rangers in the 60’s to set up the 70’s. They let him pass away and made one acknowledgment. Brutal.

We all love seeing Henrik Lundqvist add his excellent views on what’s coming up for this team. He’s a joy to watch just like his playing days. He’s a King. I wish they didn’t overlook their own rich history. That’s where they won three of four Cups.

I’m done. I find myself disappointed over this oversight. Shame on the fools who run the statistics and history of the Rangers. They suck!

There’s another game tonight. It’s against a true Original Six franchise who recognizes their entire history.

THREE STARS 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Pyotr Kochetkov Canes 31 saves on 34 shots

2nd 🌟 Brady Skjei Canes 2 assists, 4 SOG, +1 in 21:40, a pest throughout

1st 🌟 Chris Kreider NYR goal number 52 to tie Graves for 2nd most in a season by a Ranger, assist, 6 SOG, Steven McDonald Award Winner

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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