Rangers shoot their way past the scrappy Canadiens, Kane scores first goal and adds first assist in key win, Lafreniere and Trouba play well, defense struggles without Lindgren

It wasn’t easy. However, the most important part is that the Rangers fought back from three one-goal deficits to shoot their way past the scrappy Canadiens for a key 4-3 win at Bell Centre up in Montreal.

Having not played since falling to the number one overall Bruins last Saturday, the Rangers showed some rust in their first game over five days. Although the defense struggled at times, they were able to navigate their way through. It was imperative due to the Islanders coming back to stun the Penguins 4-3 in overtime. Had the Blueshirts not posted their 18th comeback win of the season, three points would’ve separated them from the streaking Isles.

By earning points 80 and 81 courtesy of a Mika Zibanejad goal in the third round of the shootout, followed by an Igor Shesterkin save on Habs goalscorer Alex Bezile, they remained five up on the Islanders.

Working in their favor is that they have three more games remaining on the schedule. The Blueshirts have 18 games left compared to 15 for the Islanders, who are locked into the first wildcard in fourth place of a crowded Metro Division.

With a point, the Penguins are in fifth place with 74 points. Good for the second wildcard. They have 18 games remaining, including three pivotal match-ups with the Rangers. Those are coming up following a visit at the fading Sabres (10-4 losers to the Stars). Between March 12-18, the Blueshirts and Pens will play three times. That’ll include a two-game series on 3/16 and 3/18, both at MSG next week.

While the Rangers try to catch the Devils (3-2 shootout win over the Capitals) for second place- something that remains unlikely due to the bitter Hudson rival holding a nine-point lead, it’ll be interesting to see what unfolds in the rest of the division. It looks like third place is as high as they can get. But there are plenty of games left. Things can change. You never know what could happen.

The Rangers will definitely play a role in the wildcard race. They still have crucial games against the Pens as noted. Plus, two with the Caps, who are still hoping to chase down the wildcard. Washington is sixth in the division with 69 points and 16 games remaining. They have lost nine of their last 12 (3-8-1). They host the Islanders this weekend in a huge four-point game. Then visit the Rangers next Tuesday. The Caps face the Isles three times and the Pens once.

While the race for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference runs through Long Island and Pittsburgh, the Rangers want to play a more steady game down the stretch. Something coach Gerard Gallant alluded to following tonight’s game. He was happy to get the win but knew they could play better.

“We were up and down all night. We kept battling back, and fortunately for us at the end of the day, we got the two points. So, we didn’t play play a perfect game, but we created some good offense. Some key guys scored for us tonight,” Gallant told Dave Maloney during the postgame.

Ever since Ryan Lindgren went down in Washington on a tough T.J. Oshie hit that wasn’t penalized. The defense has had issues. Part of the problem is K’Andre Miller wasn’t available for the previous three games due to serving a suspension for spitting on Drew Doughty.

Accidental or not, that left Gallant a man short on the bench. He rotated five without Miller and Lindgren, who missed his fifth straight game on Feb. 25. He’s still listed as “day-to-day” by the Rangers. Very noble of them to inform reporters who must guess when he could be available. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.

Whether they want to admit it or not, the Rangers are a different team defensively when Lindgren plays. He’s a solid physical presence who can cover for Adam Fox, who’s not exactly been playing well over the last few games.

He’s no longer a Norris candidate. Both Josh Morrissey and Rasmus Dahlin have passed him. Not that it matters. It’s an award that Erik Karlsson will win for the third time due to his brilliance on a lottery bound San Jose. We know how valuable Fox is to the Rangers. He can definitely play better even minus his regular D partner.

At least Gallant finally had a full deck to work with. Ben Harpur again played on the third pair with Braden Schneider. Fox worked mostly with Niko Mikkola, who got just enough of a Mike Hoffman shot in overtime to have it go off the crossbar with Montreal on a four-on-three. Miller returned to the second pair alongside Jacob Trouba, who again continued to play better. Miller struggled. He was culpable on one goal against. The bad reads are glaring when they happen. He must stabilize.

Unsurprisingly, they skated without Tyler Motte. The grinding fourth liner remained out a second straight game due to that cheap shot from Austin Watson. Even more unsurprisingly, he wasn’t suspended for the dangerous charge from behind that led to his dismissal from last week’s game against Ottawa. Of course he wasn’t.

This is the same league that only gave Tony DeAngelo a slap on the wrist (2 games) for spearing Corey Perry. Apparently, spitting is worse than attempting to injure an opponent. George Parros is the latest failure running the joke that is NHL Player Safety. That Princeton education is really kicking in.

Why even have Player Safety if they’re going to be so lousy at their jobs? It was better when the players policed themselves on such dirty plays. No wonder there’s almost always an automatic response to a big hit. Even if it’s clean, such as the ones Trouba delivers. The players know how pathetic the league is at discipline. It remains a sore subject.

With Motte remaining out, at least the Rangers were able to recall a forward from Hartford. Jonny Brodzinski was the more affordable option than Will Cuylle. That matters when it comes to the salary cap. Especially after adding Patrick Kane to Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola. The Rangers are all-in.

Playing his third game as a Ranger, Kane was a factor. He set up a goal and scored the tying power play goal with 5:29 left in the second period. It was his mistake that allowed the Habs to come two-on-one and score shorthanded 71 seconds earlier. He lost control of the puck on the bumper. Josh Anderson was able to take a Chris Tierney feed and beat Igor Shesterkin high glove to give the Canadiens their third lead with 6:40 remaining in the period.

But Gallant decided to keep Kane and a different power play unit out. This one featured Kane, Artemi Panarin (3 assists), Chris Kreider, Vincent Trocheck, and Trouba. A mix of what they used earlier in the game. Gallant changed for Fox, who was caught on for the shorthanded goal. He also replaced Alexis Lafreniere with Kreider. The moves paid off.

Kreider parked himself in front of Montembeault, who got the start for Montreal. After Panarin moved the puck up to Trouba, he passed to Kane in the left circle. Looking at Kreider screening in front, Kane took the shot and got rewarded with his first as a Blueshirt. That allowed him to atone for his turnover. He was very appreciative to get the chance and bury it.

“I just saw the defenseman come out at me. He was kinda giving me that side [far side]. I had to pull it in a little bit. Obviously, a great screen by Kreider and just had to pick the corner,” Kane said while wearing the Broadway Hat in the visitor’s locker room.

“Obviously, it’s not something you want to see. But I felt like it was a pretty nice move for the coaching staff to leave us on there and give us a chance to get it back. And nice to score after a play like that.”

It had to feel good for Kane. Following two losses against Ottawa and Boston where he didn’t register a point and was minus-four while trying to get adjusted to life on Broadway even with Panarin as a line mate, the American star had an impact with a goal and helper in a much needed victory. He understands that it wasn’t perfect. But knows how Gallant wants to play.

One thing that was clear from Thursday night’s game was the effort the Canadiens put in. Despite being out of the playoffs and unlikely to win the Connor Bedard lottery due to how hard they play under coach Marty St. Louis, they continue to give a good account of themselves.

Montreal played well and easily could’ve won. Give the Rangers credit for being able to overcome not having their best game. They were inconsistent. Both Gallant and players noted that they have to be better defensively. An area that remains an issue when Lindgren is out. He is skating. That’s the positive. It still can’t be used as a crutch for giving up odd-man rushes, breakaways, and wide open lanes to the net.

It didn’t take long for the host Canadiens to strike first. On the opening shift, the third line couldn’t get the puck out. Following a turnover from Fox, Tierney took away the puck and fed Rem Pitlick. He then moved it over for Denis Gurianov, who sent it to a cutting Kaiden Guhle, who in one motion fired a turnaround shot that beat Shesterkin 25 seconds in for a 1-0 lead.

However, with Guhle off for slashing Jimmy Vesey (drew two penalties), the Rangers power play went to work. Having altered the units by moving Mika Zibanejad and Kreider off the top unit to create more balance, Gallant’s new first power play cashed in thanks to some good work in front by Alexis Lafreniere.

After Panarin moved the puck over to Fox, his wrist shot was redirected by Lafreniere for a power play goal at 3:16. A perfect tip-in that beat Montembeault. That tied the score. At one point, he had no power play goals for his career. Now, Lafreniere is up to three thanks to being given more of a chance on the man-advantage.

With the game still tied late in the first, a bad read by Miller led to the second Montreal goal. On a play that started behind their own net, Chris Wideman moved the puck to Guhle, who then sent it into the neutral zone by both Filip Chytil and a turned around Miller.

Caught on the play, that allowed Alex Belzile to skate in on a two-on-one. His shot went high blocker on the short side past Shesterkin, who’s been having problems stopping those. The goal wasn’t on him. It was very poor coverage. You can’t have most of your players trapped. Only Trouba was back. He took the pass away. Belzille took the shot and scored his fourth at 17:02 of the first to put the Habs back in front.

There also is the sudden scoring slump Chytil is in. Since scoring his career best 19th back on Feb. 8 versus Vancouver when he went on a tear with seven goals over five games, he has no goals over the last 13. That included having a potential 20th taken away with an open net. He had been putting up points, but his play slipped recently. Since Feb. 20, Chytil has two assists and is a minus-seven in eight games. They need him to find his game.

Unlike the beginning of the contest where the Habs struck early, this time, it was the Rangers who drew even in the first minute of the second period. On some nice passing from both Kane and Panarin, they combined to find an open Trouba, who moved in and beat Montembeault to tie the score at 48 seconds.

That gave Trouba goals in two of his last three and a three-game point streak (2-2-4). The captain has picked it up lately. While offense isn’t his main priority, it’s nice to see him contribute. He remains an important leader on and off the ice. It’s usually his physical play that we’re talking about.

Help is on the way. It looks like Lindgren is finally cleared. As I mentioned before, he was skating. We can now expect to see the glue of the defense back for tomorrow. Good news.

In a better period where they had more puck possession and out-shot the Habs 14-6, the Blueshirts actually fell behind for a third time. They were put on the power play thanks to some hard work from Vesey, who was taken down by Anthony Richard behind the Montreal net. A rare miscue from Kane allowed the home team to score a shorthanded goal.

He lost the puck, which allowed Tierney to move it up to a flying Anderson for a breakaway. He came in and went high glove for his 19th at 13:20. It was the fifth shorthanded goal the Rangers had given up. They also allowed one against Boston in a 4-2 loss. Don’t make it a bad habit.

Given a reprieve by Gallant, Kane rewarded the coach by getting it right back. The adjustment of using Kreider over Lafreniere worked. They both have the same role, but Kreider is more proven at the net front. His screen on Montembeault worked perfectly, allowing Kane to find the far side for his 17th of the season.

The 447th of his brilliant career. Hopefully, it’s the first of many as a Blueshirt. That’s what they got him for. I’m glad Kane was quick to point out that they have to play better defense. He understands what it’s all about. Good overall play is what leads to success in the postseason.

Right after Kane’s tally, Zibanejad got a great scoring chance. Left alone in the slot, his slap shot rang off the crossbar and out. He had Montembeault beaten but ran into bad luck.

After the Rangers were on another power play drawn by some strong work by the third line, Lafreniere was sent off for hooking Rafael Harvey-Pinard with 2:07 left in the period. That led to some four-on-four.

Following it, the Habs nearly went back ahead on an abbreviated five-on-four. Mike Matheson was given far too much room in the slot. Fortunately for the Rangers penalty killers, his shot hit the goalpost. Following that close call, they were able to kill off the remainder and get to the locker room still tied at three.

The third period was more tightly contested. The teams only combined for a dozen shots with the Rangers leading 7-5.

Early on, an awkward hit delivered by Kreider actually saw him get the worst of it. In obvious pain, he went back to the locker room. Initially, it didn’t look good. But after missing a few shifts, he was able to return.

When Kreider was out, Lafreniere saw some shifts in his place with Zibanejad and Vladimir Tarasenko. He had a very active game and came close to getting his fourth goal in two games. He notched a pair against the Bruins.

Although there wasn’t an abundance of chances, Shesterkin made a key stop on Pitlick. His biggest save came when he denied Anderson on another breakaway. That came following a near miss from Lafreniere, where he had a wide open net. But his shot must’ve been deflected.

Anderson took off and was one on one with Shesterkin. This time, he tried to go low. But Shesterkin was ready and kicked out the shot to keep the game tied halfway through the third. A clutch save.

On the other side, Montembeault got over to make a glove save on a Zibanejad shot. He was good finishing with 30 saves on 33 shots. Shesterkin wound up making 23 saves on 26 shots.

With under five minutes remaining in regulation, Kane got caught flat-footed and took an obvious slashing minor on Johnathan Kovacevic. However, it was mostly the Rangers that were aggressive in killing off the penalty. Vesey had the only shot with his shorthanded bid from a tough angle denied by Montembeault.

Once the penalty expired, Kane joined Kreider and Zibanejad for a rare shift. He got a backhand on Montembeault who made the save for a stoppage.

On a bit of a scary defensive shift where both Trouba and Miller backed up, Harvey-Pinard was able to get between them for a good chance that Shesterkin bailed them out on with 88 seconds left in regulation. The game would require extras.

In overtime, Zibanejad went for it early, but Montembeault made the save. Following stops from each goalie, it was again Anderson who got open and nearly ended it. However, his shot went off the goalpost. He easily could’ve had a hat trick. He was the Habs’ best player.

Montembeault was able to get across to deny a wrap-around from Trocheck. Following that save, Fox was caught out of position and grabbed Nick Suzuki to hand the Canadiens a four-on-three power play with 1:27 left in overtime.

But the penalty killing unit that included Zibanejad, Trouba, and Mikola got it done. Not without some more puck luck. On a good shot by Hoffman that Harvey-Pinard tipped, the puck went off the crossbar and out of play with under a minute to go.

Following a pair of saves from Shesterkin on Hoffman and Harvey-Pinard, Mikola blocked one final attempt to send the game to a shootout.

In Round One, Pitlick missed wide, and Kaapo Kakko was denied on his backhand deke by Montembeault. Then Suzuki came in and was stopped by Shesterkin. In the bottom of the second, Zibanejad came in and faked and went forehand deke tucking the puck past Montembeault into the open side.

That left it up to Belzile. He came in and got a good shot that Shesterkin shrugged aside for the win. It didn’t come easy. But they desperately needed it.


3rd 🌟 Patrick Kane NYR scored 1st goal as a Ranger, 3 SOG in 9 attempts, plus 🍎 in 20:43

2nd 🌟 🤩 Kaiden Guhle Habs goal (4th) plus 🍎, +1 in 20:05

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Josh Anderson Habs shorthanded goal (19th), 2 SOG in 5 attempts, 3 hits, +1 in 22:06


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.
This entry was posted in NYRangers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.