Trouba, the true measure of an exciting win for Rangers over Flames, Lafreniere scores overtime winner, Chytil stays hot


In a game that had a bit of everything, the Rangers earned a hard fought 5-4 win in overtime over the feisty Flames at MSG on Monday night.

Alexis Lafreniere scored the winner at 1:37 when he was able to rebound home a Mika Zibanejad shot past Jacob Markstrom. It was his second overtime winner as a Ranger. The first came back in his rookie year when he beat the Sabres on Jan. 28, 2020. Ironically, that was his first career NHL goal.

It’s been a challenging third season for Lafreniere. However, he’s played better since being reunited with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. In fact, it was again that cohesive unit that was a big factor in the Rangers keeping pace with the Devils, who were also 5-4 OT winners over the Canucks.

Chytil stayed hot by scoring twice. In getting numbers 17 and 18 during the first two periods, he has six goals over a four-game goal scoring streak. It dates back to Jan. 23 versus Florida. He also tallied twice on Jan. 25 at Toronto, and scored once on Jan. 27 versus Vegas before the long break.

When he scored his second early in the middle stanza, Chytil had his Garden moment. Appreciative fans serenaded him with chants of, “Chy-til, Chy-til!!!” Well deserved for the budding 23-year old center with the positive attitude. It definitely moved him.

“Feels very good,” he told New York Post beat writer Mollie Walker. “It just motivates me to be better, to be better and show what I can do.”

Although they’re still young with Chytil 23, Kakko turning 22 in a week, and Lafreniere 21, you can no longer call them kids. The Kid Line was the moniker they went by during last year’s playoff run. The First Round Pick Line feels more appropriate. Especially since all three were drafted in Round One. Chytil at number 21 in 2017. Kakko second overall in 2019. Lafreniere at number one in 2020.

All you had to do was watch how active they were during their shifts. It was that line that was the most consistent. Similar to how they played when Gerard Gallant put them back together before the break. The chemistry is undeniable. They play well off each other. It’s more instinctive for Lafreniere, who was hesitant when playing with more experienced vets. Something Gallant noted after the win over Vegas prior to the bye week and All-Star Weekend.

Since being moved back onto the line, he has two goals and an assist in four games. Prior to this recent stretch, he hadn’t scored since Dec. 7. With 2-2-4 over the past five games, it’s encouraging to see Lafreniere showing improvement. They need him to continue this trend over the remainder of the schedule.

Early in the first period, Kakko picked up a primary assist on a Chytil goal that opened the scoring. Following a smart Adam Fox outlet, Kakko wisely banked a pass up for Chytil, who flew into the Calgary zone and went far side to beat Markstrom at 5:37. Kakko hasn’t scored a goal since 12/22. However, he has nine helpers since the start of the calendar year (13 games).

Obviously, Kakko’s made improvement in his fourth year. The 15 assists and 24 points are career bests. Like Lafreniere, he’ll need to finish more around the net. With nine goals in 50 games, that’s still not enough production. For his career, Kakko has totaled 35 goals with 47 assists for 82 points in 207 games. He has more confidence with the puck. It’s imperative for both Kakko and Lafreniere to each finish. That would create a better balance with Chytil, who’s carrying the load.

Following the first Chytil goal to give the Blueshirts the lead, Ben Harpur was nabbed for taking down Blake Coleman. Although they didn’t capitalize on the man-advantage, the Flames managed to tie the game shortly after it expired.

On a misplay between Fox and partner Ryan Lindgren behind the net, Andrew Mangiapane was able to get the puck in front where Coleman finished tying the score. It was one of those strange plays you don’t normally see from Fox. It caught Jaroslav Halak off guard.

Although there was no further scoring, the period really intensified. In an action-packed game where Sammy Blais returned to the lineup playing on a grinding fourth line with rookie Will Cuylle and Jake Leschyshyn, the physicality was front and center for fans to enjoy.

With over six minutes left, Jacob Trouba caught Dillon Dube with a crunching hit that sent him down. Immediately, Chris Tanev responded by dropping the gloves. Instigating a fight that saw Trouba land a few punches before knocking down Tanev, who received an extra two for roughing, the Rangers were rewarded with a power play. One of two, a big Trouba hit drew on the reactionary Flames.

If you prefer hard-hitting action, then this was your kind of game. Calgary plays a heavy style. They won’t back down when the intensity picks up. Between the physical battles and the fast-paced action that kept both goalies busy, it was a crowd pleasing night at 33rd and 7th.

The Rangers were unable to cash in on their first power play. The top unit still couldn’t quite get it right. We saw the second unit sooner than expected. Lafreniere nearly had Chytil for a goal. But his pass was broken up. He also had one of five shots on the five-on-four. The Rangers tried some deflections on Markstrom, who actually was sharp at the outset.

Between those chances, the ever dangerous Coleman got a shorthanded bid from distance that Halak handled. Although he gave up four goals on 32 shots, including a controversial tying goal from Mangiapane that went to video review in Toronto, he made some good saves throughout. There was no issue with Gallant sticking with the hot goalie out of the break. It was the first game in 10 days.

When the teams skated five aside after the Tanev roughing minor was killed off, there was a bit more nastiness. During a shift, Blais caught veteran Milan Lucic from the other side with a hit that drew anger from both the former Stanley Cup winner and Nikita Zadorov. Initially, it looked like Blais caught him from the hlind side high. MSG replays didn’t really show the best angle.

After chaos ensued with MacKenzie Weegar giving Cuylle a lesson at center ice while Zadorov went berserk, referee Kelly Sutherland made a wise decision by checking upstairs to review the Blais hit to see if it was illegal. They had the benefit of a better angle that clearly showed that although the hit came from a tough angle, Blais landed a clean shoulder to Lucic’s chest. Found innocent of any wrongdoing, he returned to the Rangers bench.

Instead, they determined that Lucic roughed up Jake Leschyshyn. Cuylle and Weegar each received five apiece for fighting. That gave the Rangers another power play. This one failed to do anything. It was a wasted exercise. Credit the Calgary penalty killers who did a masterful job.

After a heated period that saw Calgary lead in shots 12-10 while losing their cool twice, the game remained tied at one.

The second period was probably better for the Flames. However, it was the opportunistic Blueshirts that took advantage of a mistake and loss of discipline to come out ahead.

On a misplay by Calgary, Chytil stole the puck and then broke in to score his second of the game unassisted at 2:02. He came in from the left side and went five-hole on Markstrom for his career best 18th.

Every goal and point will be a new career high. For the season, he’s up to 31 points (18-13-31) with a plus-17 rating in 42 games. If he keeps it up, 30 goals and 50 points are attainable. That would look nice when negotiations start on a new contract. 

Following the go-ahead tally, it was mostly Calgary who dictated the terms. They were dangerous around the net, coming close to tying it. But a Noah Hanifin shot hit the goalpost with plenty of traffic in front. During a line change, Mikael Backlund also rang one off the post with the Rangers’ fourth line caught out.

Halak would have to contend with a few more shots. He stopped Coleman, Rasmus Andersson, Tyler Toffoli, and Trevor Lewis to keep the Rangers ahead. He faced more pressure in the second. The Flames out-shot the Rangers 12-9.

With the lone exception of the Chytil line, the Rangers struggled to establish much at five-on-five. They were again the most consistent trio. Part of their success is that they also play responsible hockey defensively. Chytil especially has been noticeable on the back check. An improvement in his overall game.

The new first line finally got something going during one extended shift. Following a strong save by Markstrom on a tricky Zibanejad redirection, he then robbed Jimmy Vesey on the backhand off a nice move to the net.

Still ahead by one, the Rangers came close to increasing the margin. However, Chytil just missed a hat trick, and Lafreniere fired wide on another good shift.

With the fourth line having an effective shift in the Calgary zone, Artemi Panarin jumped on the ice too soon. That was caught by the officials for a bench minor. At first, Cuylle offered to serve the penalty. But an incensed Gallant insisted that Panarin serve his undisciplined minor.

The penalty kill did a good job for the most part. They limited chances and keyed on Nazem Kadri by breaking up passes for clears. But finally, the Flames got set up. On some good passing from Elias Lindholm and Andersson, Toffoli found enough room to fire a good wrist shot through a screen just out of Halak’s reach for a power play goal that tied the score at 16:25.

Just when it looked like the teams would remain even headed to the locker room, another huge Trouba hit shook things up. An on-rushing Kadri got caught with his head down when Trouba laid a thunderous clean shoulder to chest hit that sent the center flying. The impact was so huge that he lost his helmet.

With the crowd roaring their approval, Trouba knew what was coming next. After Kadri tried to sucker him in, he instead waited for an incensed Dube to challenge him. Having dropped the gloves first to seek retribution, Dube lost the bout decidedly. He ate a few Trouba punches before going down. It was his first career fight. He might’ve still been fuming over getting decked by Trouba in the first period.

The penalties were properly handed out. With 56 seconds left, Dube received an extra two for instigating and a misconduct to go with five for fighting. Seventeen penalty minutes. Trouba got only five for fighting. That led to another Rangers power play. This time, they made it count.

On a set play, Fox passed over to Panarin. He then sent a pass down low for Kreider, who swung a no look backhand feed right on the stick of Zibanejad for a one-timer into an open side to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead with 14 seconds remaining in the period. A perfectly executed play by the top unit, who needed one.

The building was still buzzing from what transpired. There were plenty of cheers for the home side as they hit the locker room. Why not. This was the best hockey they’ve seen. What I mean is that while there have been other good games leading to victories, this was the kind of playoff caliber style fans enjoy. You wanted to see what would happen next.

In the third, the Rangers passed up on a couple of opportunities to shoot the puck. One such chance had Kreider in prime position. But he tried a low percentage pass for Trocheck that got intercepted. A Trocheck who was otherwise invisible. He didn’t have a good night. It feels like Kreider is sacrificing offense to play on that line with Barclay Goodrow, who can be plugged anywhere.

That’s the cost of Gallant banking on it to click for Panarin and Zibanejad. At least for one period, they made something happen during a crucial point when the game was getting away from them.

With the Rangers playing a bit more passively, they allowed the Flames to hang around. Desperate to get points, they found a way to tie it up once again. The question is, was the goal they scored legal. You be the judge.

On a Hanifin pinch, he sent a pass across for a cutting Mangiapane, who had the puck bank off his skate and in at 6:38. Halak immediately protested. He thought it was kicked in. Having watched several replays, it sure looked like Mangiapane guided it in. Did he try to turn the skate to legally redirect it in? Yes. However, I found myself in agreement with Joe Micheletti. I thought it would be waived off.

However, the longer it took for Sutherland and partner Brandon Schrader to confirm on a conference call with Toronto, the harder it was to figure out what they’d decide. Maybe the long delay should’ve been a sign that the video review was very confusing for everyone. On such plays. I think the league should send out a corresponding video explanation the next day so fans can better understand why they made the determination they did.

To much disappointment and amazement on Gallant’s face, the goal indeed counted. Mangiapane got credit for his 11th from Hanifin and Backlund. That evened the score at three.

Still reeling from that decision with perhaps a lull in their play, the Rangers allowed the Flames to take the lead 2:03 later. On some sustained pressure, Coleman and Backlund combined to set up Michael Stone for a rocket that beat Halak high to put Calgary ahead 4-3 with 11:19 left. They hadn’t come back to win a game when trailing after two periods all season. Were the Rangers about to become their one victim?

Not so fast. On a Calgary icing, the Rangers took advantage to draw even. On some effective pressure from the first line, Vesey sent the puck behind the net for Panarin. He had Zibanejad wide open in front for an easy finish on a nice backhand feed that tied the score with 7:05 remaining.

Following Zibanejad’s second of the game, Lafreniere had a chance to put them back ahead. But his wrist shot was gloved by Markstrom. He was good during the game. You noticed Lafreniere, who was active during shifts. He plays with more confidence when he is with Chytil and Kakko. The familiarity is noticeable. There’s no hesitation.

With under three minutes left in the third period, Trocheck took a lazy tripping minor by taking down Weegar. It could’ve been costly. Fortunately, his teammates picked him up.

That included a couple of Halak saves on Jakob Pelletier and the otherwise invisible Jonathan Huberdeau. If you didn’t know any better, you would’ve thought he didn’t play. It’s amazing how bad a fit he’s been under Darryl Sutter. They paid him top dollar. Think they wish Matthew Tkachuk had stayed? He’s over 70 points with the Panthers, who aren’t a playoff lock either.

Kadri missed wide on a shot. Vesey broke up a pass and cleared down with over a minute left. Halak made two more stops on Coleman from far out to send this one to overtime.

The three-on-three wouldn’t last long. It nearly ended on the opening shift. In a good move, I recommended having Panarin play with someone else and reuniting Zibanejad and Kreider. Gallant had Panarin start with Chytil and Fox. It almost worked.

Following a Markstrom save on Panarin, Fox went around the net and had Chytil in front for the winner. But his shot was blocked. Then, Panarin put a great move on and got the puck to Chytil. But his backhand was denied by a sprawling Markstrom for a stoppage.

After Zibanejad was on initially with Kreider and K’Andre Miller, out came both Fox and Lafreniere. Lafreniere made a good read to push the puck out for a two-on-one. He waited before sending a pass over for a Zibanejad shot that Markstrom denied. But the rebound came out where a hustling Lafreniere beat Zadorov to steer in the rebound for an exciting game-winner.

It was pandemonium at The Garden. Happy teammates mobbed Lafreniere, who deserved that one. He got rewarded for his effort. He was all smiles as were excited teammates who gave it to him. It was a great ending to a splendid game.

Next up are the Canucks tomorrow night at 8 PM. A ridiculous start time. A TNT special. But it’ll make Vancouver fans happy. How can they be with what they’ve seen? At least the Canucks rallied to get a point against the Devils.

THREE STARS 🌟 🤩 ✨️

3rd 🌟 Jacob Trouba, NYR team high 6 hits, including 2 big ones that led to 2 PP including a Zibanejad PPG, leads by example

2nd 🌟 🤩 Alexis Lafreniere, NYR scored OT winner at 1:37, 4 SOG, +2 in 16:01

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Filip Chytil, NYR 2 goals (17, 18), 4 SOG, +2 in 15:53

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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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