If you love goaltending, then tonight was your kind of hockey game. For over 64 minutes, nobody could score on either goalie. It was indeed an old fashioned goalie duel between Carter Hart and Igor Shesterkin at MSG.
For most of the game, it was the brilliant Hart who stole the show. Playing for John Tortorella’s Flyers, he stood on his head for long stretches.
That included a lopsided second period where the puck never seemed to leave the Flyers zone. It literally stuck to Rangers sticks where they pressed the attack after a ho-hum first that was sleep inducing.
Despite a huge edge in territorial play that produced 14 shots to just the Flyers’ four, they couldn’t solve Hart. If he wasn’t stopping everything sent his way, he had plenty of help from his best friend, the goalpost. The Rangers hit four posts during regulation. That included Chris Kreider having his shorthanded rush get denied by the clanking sound of the iron.
It also happened to Vincent Trocheck, Mika Zibanejad and Alexis Lafreniere, who played a very assertive game as did Kaapo Kakko. Neither had much puck luck with Hart, who was a brick wall until the final frantic minute of overtime.
In what probably felt like a well deserved reprieve for a player who’s been snake bit, Kreider got a do-over. On a Zibanejad pass forward that sent him in one-on-one with Hart for the game, Kreider scored the exciting overtime winner to send the Rangers to a much deserved 1-0 win over the Flyers.
As amazing as they were in controlling most of the play, they still needed two enormous saves late in regulation from Shesterkin to even reach overtime. Both times, he robbed Kevin Hayes. First with the glove and then by making a last ditch sprawling save to deny Hayes of a certain goal with 71 seconds left in the third period.
Even though he wasn’t too busy, you have to give Shesterkin plenty of credit for staying focused long enough to get the reward. When Kreider faked forehand and went backhand finally beating Hart with 53 seconds left, it gave Shesterkin his first shutout of the season. He only needed 19 saves to earn his ninth career shutout. He had six last season.
On his overtime heroics, Kreider told NY Post beat writer Mollie Walker, “Mika, I thought he was going to come with me, little panic set in when I saw he was just giving it to me and letting me take it.
Zibanejad playfully replied: “That’s pure trust right there.”
It made sense that Zibanejad was tired. It was the end of their shift. Kreider was behind all three Flyers skaters and had enough left to make a sweet move and deke to get his fourth of the season.
Entering the match off a successful 2-0 road trip with wins over Dallas and Arizona, the Rangers looked to keep it going against the surprising Flyers. Coached by Tortorella, who preaches team defense and could care less about analytics which have his team way down giving up the third most shots allowed in the league along with the third fewest shots for, they entered with a 5-2-1 record good for 11 points.
As long as Tortorella gets maximum effort from his players in all three zones, he doesn’t care. He even has offensive defenseman Tony DeAngelo buying in by blocking shots. He’s never been known for his defense. But throughout this game including an extended shift over two minutes for him and partner Ivan Provorov, he made subtle plays defensively.
At the start, there wasn’t a whole lot happening. You had the Rangers getting some shots from the outside. Hart made the saves on all nine he faced in what amounted to a mind-numbing period. The Flyers backed up and clogged the neutral zone and hardly gave up anything.
Lafreniere nearly had a cutting Adam Fox for what would’ve been an easy goal late in the first. But his pass didn’t work, hopping over Fox’s stick. Hart was out of position. Ironically, the closest call came when Ryan Lindgren bailed out an over committed Shesterkin on a wrap-around with a well timed block in front. Lindgren had a strong game.
Following a sleep inducing period where the shots favored the Rangers 9-7, they really turned up the heat in the second. From the very first shift, Hart had to contend with a Miller wrist shot and then deny a tricky Kakko backhand in tight.
That set the tone. The ice would be tilted for almost the rest of the period. It included Lafreniere getting a takeaway and missing a deflection wide. Quite a few Blueshirts missed the net. They couldn’t shoot straight. If they had, they might’ve reached double the 14 shots they were credited with.
“Shot wide,” seemed to be the theme as called by Sam Rosen. Part of it was how the Flyers defended. They went into a cocoon, taking away most of the inside. Lafreniere would get another good chance in front, but sent a backhand wide. It was frustrating.
Despite all the dominance, Scott Laughton came on a counter due to a Julien Gauthier turnover. Owen Tippett sent him the other way. But his wrist shot was easily handled by Shesterkin, whose net must’ve sounded like a library. All the action was at Hart’s end.
An attacking Kakko drew a tripping minor on Wade Allison. The top unit did everything but score. Both Zibanejad and Kreider were denied twice with Hart getting across to stop the heavy one-timer from Zibanejad. He would also deny a Kreider tip-in.
By the time the second unit came on, there was barely any time left to do anything. That remains a gripe for me. I think you need two units to be successful in the playoffs. As lethal as the top unit is, they can’t always do it. Especially when they over pass and become predictable.
Sometimes, Gerard Gallant has to trust the second unit. Maybe whenever Filip Chytil is cleared, that finally happens. I’m tired of seeing Lafreniere and Kakko get the leftover crumbs. That philosophy has hurt both production wise. At least they’re each playing in the top six and creating opportunities.
At the halfway mark, you had the Rangers all over the Flyers. For two minutes, they had puck possession. The Flyers couldn’t clear the puck. They hardly had it. All period, they kept forechecking. But Hart kept stopping the puck as if he were a programmed robot. It felt like he was a cyborg from The Terminator. Or the T 1000.
While DeAngelo and Provorov were stuck out for a long shift, the Rangers even changed players. The closest they came was when Zibanejad rang one off the far goalpost on a nice set up from Kakko. K’Andre Miller then fired wide on a follow-up. A bit later, Lafreniere had another tip-in miss.
The only momentum for the Flyers came when Artemi Panarin knocked former Ranger Justin Braun’s helmet off in the offensive zone for roughing. A ridiculous penalty. He takes some bad ones despite not being penalized much.
Instead of doing something on the power play, the Flyers proceeded to lose the puck at the point. Following a desperation DeAngelo keep on a dive when he wasn’t getting booed, Lindgren sent Kreider alone for a shorthanded breakaway. He made the right play, but had his wrist shot go off the goalpost.
The penalty kill continued to create the better chances. Hart made a shorthanded save on a Miller bid from distance. Back at full strength, the Blueshirts continued to search for a way to beat Hart. He came up with a tough stop on a tricky Zibanejad deflection.
Frustration started to boil over late in the period. During an active shift, Lafreniere exchanged slashes with Provorov which got the crowd going. He would later get into it with former Islander Kieffer Bellows during a scrum. You also had Travis Konecny exchange pleasantries later on with Jacob Trouba. He’s feisty.
As the period concluded, a huge scrum behind the Rangers net ensued. All ten skaters were involved. You had Gauthier taking up for Fox and an incensed Lindgren going after Konecny and Kevin Hayes. Lindgren got the extra minor to put the Flyers on the power play to begin the third.
To their credit, the penalty kill came through to keep the Flyers off the scoreboard. Shesterkin only had to make two saves including a tough one on a low DeAngelo shot with traffic. Braden Schneider took care of the man in front and cleared the puck.
Not long after, this time Braun took down Trocheck to go to the box. Trocheck got the best chance early into the power play. But on a perfect Kreider centering feed, he sent a one-timer high and wide. It was ridiculous. Thirteen feet out and he can’t hit the net. Is he suffering from Ryan Strome syndrome? Just checking.
A bit later, it was actually Lafreniere who got a great opportunity with the second unit. But his backhand hit the post. The fourth such instance that happened. Puck luck was on Hart’s side.
During a stoppage, the Garden cheered when they showed Giants head coach Brian Daboll on the video board seated next to GM Joe Schoen. They deserved it. Nobody had the Giants 6-2 at basically the halfway point.
One of the only things that bothered me was Panarin’s predictability. He doesn’t shoot the puck enough. When he at least looks shot, it can open up the lanes for his East/West passes. The Flyers got their sticks on an awful lot of them. That’s how this team plays. They could easily have had 50 shots on Hart. Maybe they win in regulation.
With time winding down, DeAngelo accidentally cleared a puck just over the glass. After a conference, the on ice officials made the proper call for delay of game. Finally, Panarin shot and Hart made a good save to stop him. Panarin also had another attempt blocked.
During the five-on-four, it sure looked like a Flyer cleared another puck straight out. They batted it. But they thought it made contact with a Ranger. Instead of a possible five-on-three, the Rangers couldn’t muster anything else.
Right after, Trouba turned the puck over at the Flyers blue line. Here came Hayes the other way. But his shot was denied by the quick glove of Shesterkin with 2:27 left. A huge save that bailed Trouba out. He’s definitely struggling. The captain has to cut out the mistakes.
On an even more dangerous chance created by a Tippett steal, Hayes had the game on his stick. With Shesterkin down, it looked like he’d score. But at the last moment, Shesterkin managed to rob Hayes on a backhand that would’ve made it 1-0 with 1:11 remaining. That save allowed the Rangers to reach overtime.
During the three-on-three, it was all Blueshirts. Despite some good chances to end it, Hart kept making saves. He denied a Miller bid in tight and padded away a tough Kakko shot. It really felt like both goalies would share a shutout with it going to the shootout.
But on a Konecny miss, he got trapped along with Hayes and Provorov. Zibanejad simply pushed the puck ahead at center ice for Kreider to skate into. He did the rest to send the Rangers home winners. In doing so, that’s three in a row. That’s a winning streak. It has happened before. That line will never get old.
While the media gave the third star to Hart which was ridiculous, I had him the game’s first star. He made 35 saves. So, here were my three stars. Same players. Just a different order.
Up next are the unbelievable Bruins. How good are they? They fell behind the Pens 5-2 before coming all the way back to win 6-5 in OT at Pittsburgh. They really have it all going. David Pastrnak is on fire now. Taylor Hall is scoring again.
So is Jake DeBrusk, who once wanted out. Even Pavel Zacha is contributing. Hampus Lindholm had four points including the winner last night. Even without Charlie McAvoy, they’re winning. Brad Marchand also returned early and hasn’t missed a beat.
They will be a handful on Thursday night at MSG. A 7:30 PM start time on ESPN Plus. If it’s not on TV, I’ll just tune in on ESPN Radio. There is no more way to stream games without getting the ESPN Plus app. Oh well. Either way, we’ll see how it goes.
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