Rangers end regular season with one-goal win over Capitals, Lafreniere gets 19th, Kakko two assists, Georgiev strong in possible last game as Blueshirt

In what was a good way to conclude the regular season, the Rangers defeated the Capitals 3-2 on Friday night at The Garden. They came back for a one-goal win over an old Patrick Division rival.

On Fan Appreciation Night, goals from Alexis Lafreniere and Dryden Hunt helped them come back for a final time during the 82-game schedule. Lafreniere got his 19th while Hunt finished off his sixth for the game-winner.

In what might’ve been his final game as a Blueshirt, Alex Georgiev made 34 saves on 36 shots. Somehow, the clueless media didn’t vote him as the game’s First Star. Instead, it went to Hunt. Do they actually watch these games?

A couple of days removed from not his best start in a tough 4-3 home loss to the Canadiens, Georgiev turned in one of his better performances of what’s been a challenging season. It isn’t easy to take a back seat to Igor Shesterkin, who deservedly won Team MVP earlier in the day.

Despite having periods of inactivity due to the special year from Shesterkin, whose .935 save percentage ranks third in NHL history among goalies who played a minimum of 50 games, Georgiev managed to finish ’21-22 better. He won eight of his last nine decisions.

That included going 4-1-0 with a 2.00 GAA and .927 save percentage plus a shutout in April. For sure, the way the 26-year old Bulgarian wanted to end the season. Overall, Georgiev won 15 games against 10 defeats with two overtime losses. In 33 games, he posted a 2.92 GAA, .898 save percentage and two shutouts.

If that’s indeed it, he finishes his Rangers career 58-48-11 with a 2.94 GAA, .908 save percentage and eight shutouts over 129 appearances (117 starts). Not bad for a guy that wasn’t drafted. For anyone who says he didn’t contribute, they’re flat out wrong. He won 15 games including the remarkable 44-save virtuoso performance over Carolina on Mar. 20.

In the 82nd game, only Artemi Panarin (upper-body) and Andrew Copp (lower-body) rested. Panarin led the team in scoring for the third straight year. His 96 points were a career high along with a Rangers’ best 74 assists to set a new record by forwards over a season.

Copp posted 18 points (8-10-18) in 16 games post trade deadline to become a key pickup. He will play a pivotal role on the Panarin line with Ryan Strome when they face the Penguins in the first round. That series starts next Tuesday at MSG with game time after 7 PM. It’s every other day.


(2) New York Rangers vs. (3) Pittsburgh Penguins

Tuesday May 3 Pens at Rangers 7 PM

Thursday May 5 Pens at Rangers 7 PM

Saturday May 7 Rangers at Pens 7 PM

Monday May 9 Rangers at Pens 7 PM

*Wednesday May 11 Pens at Rangers TBD

*Friday May 13 Rangers at Pens TBD

*Sunday May 15 Pens at Rangers TBD

Unfortunately, that means no Game One for us. Bummer. Just how the schedule works out. Had it been Monday, there would’ve been live playoff hockey to see at MSG. I’m really disappointed for Justin and Dad. Especially my brother. Hopefully, there’ll be a date that works.

As far as facing the Pens, it’ll be tough. They’re coming in healthy. They play more of a playoff style than the Caps, who still don’t know the Game One status of Alex Ovechkin when they begin their first round series against the President’s Trophy winning Panthers. Ovechkin had a good time up in the press box as only he can.

Ovechkin is a classic. Hopefully for his team, he’ll be ready to go. If not, they could get bounced out quickly. That series looks like a mismatch. However, the games must still be played. You never know. It’s the playoffs.

In terms of other special awards the team handed out, both Barclay Goodrow and Jacob Trouba shared Player’s Player. Both were equally deserving for how they each carried themselves on and off the ice. For sure, team leaders who really handled things and stepped in for teammates.

The John Halligan Award recognizes the one Rangers player who is very easy to deal with for the media. That went to Strome, who really is a terrific interview. He is superb at breaking down the game, and always a good quote. This is a nice honor for a good team guy.

If you don’t know who John Halligan is, I suggest you look him up. He was an outstanding photographer and publicist who worked for the Rangers in Public Relations and Communications. I even recall meeting him once while interning for Stan Fischler. A wonderful man who was the ultimate professional.

If you wanted a look at a different award the organization used to present, Sean McCaffrey of bluecollarblueshirts.com has you covered on the Frank Boucher Trophy. He has filled in the missing seasons since they stopped handing it out in 2010. I agree with his extensive list and explanations for which players he selected.

As far as the final tuneup before the calendar turns to May, it was nice to see the boys go out the right way. They ended a season high three-game losing streak in regulation.

In doing so, the Rangers finish with 52 wins to tie for the most in franchise history. They went 52-24-6 with 110 points. A tremendous season under Jack Adams candidate Gerard Gallant. Now, business picks up. Something Jim Ross would say. Turk will earn his money.

Players that dressed included Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Trouba. All who sat out on Wednesday when they presented Kreider as the inaugural winner of the Rod Gilbert Award.

Mr. Ranger must’ve been proud watching from above. He was a big fan of Kreider. Maybe it explains his career year of 52 goals including a new club record in power play goals (26) and game-winning goals (11). The 77 points he finished with are a career high. He also tied his career best in assists (25).

Although he didn’t add to his total, he looked good. Especially on the penalty kill with sidekick Zibanejad, who narrowly missed getting number 30 with the Washington net vacated in the closing minute.

A positive was the play of Kaapo Kakko. He still isn’t shooting the puck enough. But he distributed it to pick up a pair of primary assists. That included a smart play along the boards where he pushed a puck towards Filip Chytil, who managed to catch Ilya Samsonov napping for his eighth at 3:26 of the second period.

But before PA announcer Joe Tolleson could reveal the game’s first goal, the Caps came right back on the next shift. On a play where the kid line of Kakko, Chytil and Lafreniere were far too passive, they let Trevor van Riemsdyk cut in and get a good shot that rebounded off Georgiev right to Justin Schultz for the tying goal just 35 seconds later.

Thirteen seconds afterwards, Kevin Rooney tripped up Garnet Hathaway. On their third power play after getting nothing done on an early one in the second, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov combined to pass up top for an open John Carlson. He let go of a rocket that beat Georgiev through traffic high and far side to give the Caps the lead.

Now trailing by one, Gallant made a lineup adjustment. He moved Lafreniere off the Chytil line and up with Strome and Goodrow. It was a smart move. That trio played well together. Goodrow adds that grit factor. It’s why I believe he must play on the third line over Kakko. He wins face-offs and creates space.

After a few key saves from Georgiev, the Rangers took full advantage of a rare bad turnover by Carlson. As he wound up to make a pass in the neutral zone, the veteran defenseman missed the puck completely. It was like watching Joey Gallo at the plate for the Yankees.

Following the Carlson whiff that took him out of the play, Braden Schneider picked up the puck and moved it for Lafreniere, who started a two-on-one with Strome. It became a perfect give and go with Strome returning a pass for an easy Lafreniere finish on the doorstep to tie the score at 15:44.

The funny aspect is after he scored his 19th goal (all even strength), a smiling Lafreniere adjusted his helmet behind the net as he received congrats. Something that amused teammates along with Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti. If only he could’ve gotten one more for 20.

I believe Lafreniere will get 30 next year. In fact, I’m on record. Don’t believe me? I’m a man of my word.

In the third, all you were looking for is a good period and a goal to get a win. They got both.

When Gallant switched his lines, he made another wise change by shifting Hunt on the third line. It worked. You can’t not have some sandpaper with Chytil, Lafreniere or Kakko.

In this case, the grinding Hunt was the ingredient who got rewarded for his hustle. Following a good pass from Fox to Kakko that kept a play alive, it was Kakko who found Hunt open down low. One-on-one with an aggressive Samsonov, he made a great move by patiently maneuvering around the Caps goalie and tucking in the puck on the forehand for his sixth.

That gave the Rangers a one-goal lead with 13:18 remaining. For a no frills guy who is best suited on the fourth line, Hunt’s had a good year. The 26-year old forward has set new career highs across the board in games played (76), goals (6), assists (11) and points (17). He’s also posted 52 penalty minutes and 153 hits.

Give credit to Gallant for believing in him. He liked his work ethic. Hunt isn’t going to blow anyone away. But more often than not, he gets his nose dirty. That’s a good thing. If he plays on the checking line next week, Hunt knows what his role is.

Still nursing a one-goal lead, the Blueshirts made a couple of mistakes that could’ve allowed the Caps to tie it. Most notably, K’Andre Miller lost the puck in the neutral zone. That allowed Tom Wilson to sneak behind and get in on Georgiev, who made a great sliding pad save to deny his backhand attempt.

He would make some more key stops in crunch time. That included a couple on a late Caps’ power play. Goodrow was off for hooking Dmitry Orlov.

There were some flat-out denials by Georgiev, who looked more confident as the game went on. He stopped a cool dozen shots in a busy third to earn the victory.

With Samsonov lifted for an extra attacker that at one point gave them a six-on-four, the Caps searched for the equalizer. It never came.

With the open net to shoot at, Kreider made a long attempt from his own end shorthanded. But it missed the net. A bit later, Zibanejad had a good look at a closer shot. But his backhand hit the goalpost.

It didn’t matter. The Rangers did enough to send the Garden crowd home happy. Several lucky fans got autographed jerseys as part of the team tradition. It’s ridiculous that they couldn’t meet and greet their heroes on the ice. Pandemic nonsense.

I like the way they have the players stay on the ice along with whoever is scratched coming down to present their jerseys to fans. That’s always been great. I wish they could’ve been presented in person.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There are no more restrictions. Why not. It could be a better question for both MSG, the Rangers and the NHL. I wonder if that applies to every arena. Who knows.

What is exciting is that it’s not over. There will be a postseason. We know it won’t be easy. I’m not going to go in detail in this post. I’ll save that for my series preview. I’ll also as usual have a full NHL Playoff Preview.

Keep an eye out for it over the weekend. Believe it or not, there is still one more game for the Kraken and Jets to make up on Sunday. While neither team is in the playoffs, it makes sense to have them play it. That way all 32 teams play a full 82.

Kudos to the NHL on getting through a still partially COVID interrupted season. They did a good job making up the games. It’s nice to see the league complete a full season. Something I had my doubts about during the cold winter with all the postponements.

Now comes the best part. The Stanley Cup Playoffs. Congrats to the Rangers on a successful season. Now, it’s time for the true test. It’s sure to be exciting. Let’s embrace it.


3rd 🌟 Braden Schneider NYR 2 assists, +2 in 14:57

2nd 🌟 Kaapo Kakko NYR 2 assists, 2 SOG, +1 in 14:03

1st 🌟 Alex Georgiev NYR 34 saves on 36 shots including 12/12 stops in 3rd

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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