Rangers go to ridiculous lengths to satisfy cap for expected Kane trade, Zibanejad heroic in big win over Kings, Miller ejected for spitting incident, hearing today, action heats up in loaded Eastern Conference

It’s the Monday before the March 3rd trade deadline on Friday. There’s so much to get to. While the Rangers picked up a big win over the Kings to snap a four-game losing streak (0-3-1), the action is fast and furious around a loaded Eastern Conference.

First and foremost, the Rangers went to ridiculous lengths to stay cap compliant for the expected Patrick Kane trade. As has been reported by reliable sources, including Elliotte Friedman, it’s all but done. Now, it’s just a matter of whether it’s announced on Wednesday or Friday.

Whether you agree with how the organization has gone about its business, Kane is going to get his wish. After voicing his displeasure over the acquisition of Vladimir Tarasenko, it was obvious that the Blackhawks legend only wanted to be in one place. He had full control due to the no-movement clause in a contract that pays him $10.5 million this season. It expires this summer.

With Team President and GM Chris Drury scrambling to satisfy the cap due to the Rangers not having much wiggle room, that meant dressing 18 skaters but only playing 16 in Sunday night’s 5-2 win over the Kings.

Coach Gerard Gallant was unable to play Braden Schneider and Hartford call-up Ryan Carpenter. That put him in a tough spot, especially when K’Andre Miller received a match penalty for a spitting incident with Drew Doughty. Even though he went out of his way to apologize to Doughty following the game and posted a public apology via social media, it was a regrettable action.

Miller has a hearing today with the league. It’s expected that he could be suspended for two or three games. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as it pertains to the Rangers’ next game this Wednesday night at the Flyers. Will they have Kane with a brand new number 88 Blueshirts jersey? That remains to be seen.

The following is courtesy of Puck Pedia. They’ve been continually providing updates on what the Rangers can do to stay cap compliant.

If all of this is confusing, you’re not alone. It’s pretty ridiculous. But Drury opted to trade for Tarasenko, who looks like he’s on his last legs. At least they added Niko Mikkola. Good thing Drury did due to the Ryan Lindgren injury. Nobody has any idea how long he’ll be out. The Rangers keep things close to the vest. You can never believe a word Gallant says on injured players.

It’s worth noting that the Blackhawks are expected to pick up half of Kane’s salary. A third team likely will be needed to pick up another 25 percent to assist the Rangers in the complicated transaction. We’ve already seen this play out with the Leafs trading for Ryan O’Reilly. The Wild got involved to help Toronto save money so they could make more critical moves, which happened earlier today.

With pretty much everything laid out, the parameters for a Kane deal remain on track. By yo-yoing Schneider to Hartford for cap savings, the Rangers are doing everything they can to complete the trade for the American legend by Wednesday. It’s so distracting that the game yesterday felt irrelevant. No difference than Saturday’s humiliation to the Capitals.

If you’re a fan of the team, you want them to win as many games as possible. There’s still a chance that they can avoid the Devils, who sit three back of the Hurricanes, who remain eerily quiet despite their need for another offensive player.

With the Devils completing the very complex trade for Timo Meier with the Sharks last night, they have significantly upgraded their roster. It’s indeed Timo Time in Newark. The likelihood of Jack Hughes playing with Meier is a daunting prospect for opponents.

The very interesting part is that I nearly guessed the players involved. After initially thinking, perhaps Seamus Casey might be in it, I came to the conclusion that former first round pick Shakir Mukhamadullin would be part of the trade. He plays in the KHL. Both Robert and I guessed that Fabian Zetterlund was in the trade. Rob is a huge Devils fan. So, full props. We didn’t know Nikita Ohhoktiuk was the third player. Neither of us has any idea how to pronounce his name. He scored a goal in 10 games with the Devils.

Hasan provided a very detailed post on the particulars of the Timo Meier trade that also included the Devils getting depth defenseman Scott Harrington. Yes. I guessed that Andreas Johnsson’s contract would be dumped to the Sharks to help offset salary to fit in Meier, who had 50 percent of his salary picked up by San Jose.

With the details of the Meier trade slowly coming out due to a player having a minor injury that the teams worked through, it was a distraction. Even watching the game last night, which the Rangers played much better in than at any point during their seven-game win streak, I kept checking my time-line to see who the players were along with the expected first round pick plus the conditional first.

While that trade saga went on along with the hint that Tanner Jeannot was on the block with the Lightning interested, there was a game played at 33rd and 7th above Penn Station.

Coming off a 6-3 blowout loss to the Caps that could’ve been much worse had Igor Shesterkin not made a bunch of good saves, the Rangers knew they had to straighten out. Their play away from the puck was abominable. They gave up so many easy goals and scoring chances in transition that it was probably the worst game they’ve played during this season.

With the news circulating from the beat writers that neither Schneider nor Carpenter were expected to take a shift, that left Gallant with 16 skaters. Five defensemen (until Miller’s match penalty) and 11 forwards were available. That meant some line tweaks when Gallant wanted to use Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Motte. Solid checking forwards that can be used anywhere.

Playing without Lindgren, who they still termed “day-to-day,” the Rangers went with Niko Mikkola on the top pair alongside Adam Fox. Miller and Jacob Trouba were the second pair. That left Ben Harpur to take shifts when necessary. At least that was the plan.

After giving him the third period off on Saturday, Gallant went back to Shesterkin for a second straight start. It went much better. Instead of being hung out to dry, he got plenty of help from more focused teammates who came back defensively. It was night and day.

In a lineup switch, Tarasenko played mostly with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. A place he will likely be once Kane arrives. The plan looks like he’ll play with familiar former teammate Artemi Panarin with the red hot Vincent Trocheck in the middle. Tarasenko again didn’t distinguish himself. He hasn’t been good since Panarin set him up 2:43 into his Rangers debut.

Following an early power play that did nothing except miss the net, the Rangers were at least able to stifle the Kings, who initially came out strong. They tested Shesterkin early and often. But a focused Shesterkin turned aside Anze Kopitar, Adrian Kempe, and Kevin Fiala.

With the defense more committed to blocking shots, both Kreider and Harpur got in the path of a pair of Matt Roy attempts. An underrated Kings defenseman who has had a good year. As a team, the Blueshirts blocked 17 shots led by Harpur (5) and Trouba (4). Both played pivotal roles in the win, with each logging 33 shifts and over 28 minutes apiece.

On what was an effective forechecking shift from both Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere was able to take a Kakko feed and have his shot from the left circle take a good bounce off Jonathan Quick for his 11th with six minutes left.

Not long after the goal, there was a state of confusion during a stoppage at the 16:37 mark of the first period. Refs Eric Furlatt and Brandon Schrader got together to figure out what happened during a scrum between Miller and Doughty. Nobody knew what was going on. It was perplexing.

When they announced that they had given Miller a match penalty, which means a game misconduct and automatic review for spitting on Doughty, it was shocking. However, the evidence didn’t lie. MSG replays clearly showed Miller spitting with the loogie landing on Doughty. Yikes.

The incident gave the Kings a five-minute power play with 3:23 remaining in the period. That ridiculous major penalty could’ve swung the momentum. Even if it wasn’t deliberate with a very remorseful Miller seeking out Doughty following the game, it’s something that can’t happen. It was interesting how there was no real overreaction to what happened.

On the first part of the five-on-four, the Kings came close to tying it twice. Both times, it was Kempe who had great opportunities. On a nice setup in the slot, he beat Shesterkin with a shot that went off the crossbar and stayed out. A bit later, he was one on one with Shesterkin, who wisely came out to deny his backhand deke by making a great diving save and covering the puck to cheers.

Those were the two best chances the Kings had. It was their best finisher. He just couldn’t convert. Had he, the game could’ve changed. Instead, the Rangers were able to kill off the remaining 97 seconds at the start of the second period.

Able to grab the momentum back, they struck quickly. On a shift where he was out with both Zibanejad and Kreider, Trocheck had the good fortune to have a pass in front deflect off a Kings’ player past Quick to make it 2-0 at 2:02.

Despite being down three players, including two defensemen, it was the Rangers who chased Quick when Trocheck had a wrist shot fool the future USA Hockey Hall Of Famer. That gave him two goals in 1:35, making it 3-0. Quick looks like he’s near the end of a brilliant career. He’s been outplayed by surprising revelation Pheonix Copley. The 31-year old journeyman replaced a visibly frustrated Quick.

I have to admit I was a little surprised that Kings coach Todd McLellan went with Quick for a second straight start. He was in for their 3-2 win over the Islanders. I would’ve thought Copley, who has the 17-4-2 record, would be in the net. He gives them the best chance to win. Copley is a great story. He only got two games with the Caps last season. Prior to ’21-22, he hadn’t played in the NHL since ’18-19.

The reason LA is where they are in a very good Pacific Division is due to the defensive style they play. They’re very disciplined and play a 1-3-1 that can frustrate opponents. They are a tight checking team that can forecheck and create more offense thanks to the addition of Kevin Fiala. If they make the playoffs, nobody will want to see them. They nearly took out Edmonton last year. Connor McDavid put on a spectacular performance to lead the Oilers past them in seven games.

One thing about the Kings. They never quit. Even in a game, it wasn’t their night they came back to make it interesting. A Mikola holding minor late in the second allowed LA to get on the scoreboard.

On what was a fluky play, Viktor Arvidsson waited just long enough for an Arthur Kaliyev high rebound to come down where he batted the puck in for a power play goal. Due to how close his stick was when it made contact with the puck, they immediately checked upstairs. They ruled good goal on the ice.

Initially, I thought it would get overturned. But after seeing another replay, based on where Arvidsson made contact with the puck, it looked to be at crossbar height. That made it a legal play. They confirmed it as a good goal to a few boos. You have to understand the rule.

Arvidsson’s 18th on the power play from Kaliyev and Phillip Danault made it 3-1 with 1:48 left in the period. They would go to the locker room trailing by two.

The Rangers were still in good position. The question was, would they get tired in the third. It didn’t start particularly well.

After both Kopitar and Quinton Byfield went wide on shots, Byfield was then stopped by Shesterkin on a deflection. However, on the next shift, there were chances at both ends. Trocheck went for the hat trick on a rush but missed wide. That allowed the Kings to counter up ice with Danault passing for Roy, who beat Shesterkin with a good shot high blocker to cut it to one at 1:27.

On the goal, Panarin got caught pinching while covering the point. A no-no when you’re leading. Gallant didn’t look too pleased. But the Bread Man atoned for the defensive miscue by scoring a huge goal on the following shift.

Panarin looked to have a sure goal. But a diving Copley made a great sprawling save. However, his own teammate Sean Walker banged into him, sending him down. That allowed Panarin to put the rebound into the open part of the net upstairs for his 19th from Trocheck. That goal came only 44 seconds after Roy scored. It was a huge answer to restore a two-goal lead.

With Alex Edler off for hooking Kreider, the Blueshirts extended their lead to 5-2 thanks to some artful passing. Both Panarin and Adam Fox played catch before Fox sent a perfect feed across for a wicked Zibanejad one-timer into the short side for his 18th power play goal. He’s up to 31 on the season.

It was a pretty cool thing to see Zibanejad score. During the late stages of the second, he made a diving block of a hard shot that went right off his foot. He was down writhing in pain. The crowd definitely was concerned and chanter, “Mika, Mika” as he got to his feet and was helped off the ice.

It looked bad. But when he returned for the third, he got a loud ovation. Thankfully, he was okay. If this team goes anywhere, Zibanejad will be a big reason why. One of the best acquisitions in franchise history (thanks Jeff Gorton), Zibanejad is the best forward they have. It’s hard to believe Gorton stole him for Derick Brassard. What a player he’s become. The five-goal game and his virtuoso performance in last year’s playoffs are proof of what a terrific player he is.

It would be nice to see Mika Magic get 40 goals again. He deserves it. A complete player who plays both sides of the puck, Zibanejad is the star of this team. He makes $8.5 million on average. A bargain. He took less to stay when they signed him to an extension. That’s a T-E-A-M player.

With the Rangers ahead by three goals, it was too much for the Kings to overcome. For one night at least, the shorthanded Rangers showed a lot of mettle. They defended well and came back.

Shesterkin didn’t have to stand on his head or face uncontested odd-man rushes or breakaways. He made the key saves en route to 26 in winning his 26th game of the season. By allowing two goals, it was the first time in eight games he’d done that. The last time came on Jan. 23 versus Florida.

I posted the three stars on our official Twitter account. It was nice to give out three stars to Rangers.

After the game, it was revealed that the Lightning gave up a lot for Tanner Jeannot. A hard-nosed, physical player who plays the game with edge and toughness, he obviously had a lot more value than anyone would’ve thought. The Bolts were willing to include Cal Foote and five draft picks just to acquire the 25-year old Jeannot. That’s nuts. But when you’re a team committed to winning like Tampa, it’s worth it.

The Lightning obviously thinks Jeannot’s rugged style is a perfect fit. He should slot in on the third line with Nick Paul. I view it as an answer to the Leafs recently trading for Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari. Jeannot is also on an entry-level contract. He is restricted this summer. There’s no doubt the Lightning will sign him long-term like they did with Paul.

Maybe thinking they had to make another move today, the Maple Leafs countered by acquiring both Sam Lafferty and Jake McCabe from the Blackhawks for a conditional first round pick and second round pick. Joey Anderson and Pavel Gogolev also went back to Chicago. The Leafs received conditional fifth round picks in 2024 and 2025.

I was someone who wanted Lafferty. He brings a lot to the table. A player who possesses good speed along with grit, he went to Chicago and scored 10 goals and added 17 assists while becoming a fixture on the penalty kill. That’s a smart move by Toronto. Adding McCabe to a questionable blue line should help. This is all in anticipation for the big first round rematch with Tampa.

It’s obvious that the Leafs are all in this year. If they can finally get out of the first round, they think they can go all the way. They’d have to likely go through both the Lightning and the Bruins just to make the Conference Finals. The Atlantic Division just got very interesting.

With both the Red Wings and Sabres pushing hard to get back to the playoffs with strong competition from the Islanders, Penguins, Panthers, and Capitals, it’s going to go down to the wire. Whoever wins those two wildcard spots will earn it.

As for the Blueshirts, it’s now a waiting game. We all know Kane is coming. He’s getting his wish, which to me feels a little selfish. He sure didn’t do right by the Blackhawks. They’re not going to get much for the greatest American born player. That’s who Kane is. But this is his choice. He had the power.

I ran a poll on Twitter that received 280 votes. The topic was Kane.

You can argue either side. Kane won the Blackhawks three Cups. He and Jonathan Toews were an unbelievable dynamic duo that turned them around. You could say he owes them nothing. He has plenty of hardware.

The flip side is that he made it impossible for them to get fair value. He’s a superstar. Even at 34, Showtime can be a difference maker. Who’d you rather have from watching them? Tarasenko or Kane. Kane still looks to have the skating and skill. Tarasenko hasn’t proven much since coming over. He clearly is struggling. Maybe once Kane puts on the Rangers jersey, it’ll alleviate some pressure.

When it happens, Jimmy Vesey goes from the top line to the fourth line. It’s a much better fit where he’ll likely play with Goodrow and Motte. That’s a real fourth line. It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

That’s gonna do it. What trade will happen next? Don’t answer that! 😉

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Devils acquire Timo Meier in blockbuster, complicated trade

If this regular season hasn’t already become a dream come true for Devils fans on the ice, GM Tom Fitzgerald today put an exclamation point on that this afternoon by pushing his chips to the middle of the table in a long-rumored and nerve-wracking trade negotiation before finally getting his man in Sharks winger Timo Meier just days before the Friday trade deadline. Meier – who has 31 goals in 52 games this year after scoring 37 last season – was clearly the key prize of this year’s trade deadline, and with the Devils in the market for another big top six winger since at least this offseason after the ill-fated Matt Thachuk and Johnny Gaudreau negotiations, Meier became Fitzy’s latest white whale.

This time, the white whale got bagged though. It feels a little silly to obsess over what we gave up, but make no mistake it was a lot in terms of quantity at least.

Perhaps the most questionable thing about the deal is the lack of an extension in place for Timo in it, at least on paper. However, given the Devils’ Swiss connection and upward trajectory combined with all of what they gave up I’m not too worried they’ll figure out a way to sign the 26-year old long-term at some point soon. It’s not likely any of the other names we got back will factor in with the big club – apart from maybe the veteran Harrington as an #8D – since the Sharks needed to shed some organizational depth being almost at the limit of fifty contracts. Swapping late round picks in 2024 feels so random, almost as if that was what was needed to balance it out on a trade meter in NHL24.

As far as what we gave up, obviously the inane rumors of Dawson Mercer had no legs and they clearly weren’t giving up prized prospect defensemen Luke Hughes or Simon Nemec. Giving up Fabian Zetterlund wasn’t exactly my favorite part of the trade but it seemed like he was on too short a leash at times here this year, at least he’ll get a full run with the Sharks and will probably be a solid role player in years to come. Mukhamadullin was a fairly recent first-round pick playing in the KHL who even Fitzy admitted was almost ready for a look at the NHL, but given the fact we had three core defensemen signed long-term plus Hughes and Nemec higher up on the prospect value chart, the chances for Muk to make a big impact seemed very narrow.

To a degree the same was true of Okhotyuk, a 2019 2nd rounder who actually did get in some NHL games last season and this, but would have almost certainly topped out as a back-pairing defenseman here. Maybe elsewhere he’ll have a shot to carve out a little better celling than that. I’m sure a main reason for giving up as much stuff as we did was also the fact that Timo’s salary for this year was basically offloaded between the 50% retention on his contract and the Sharks also taking back Andreas Johnsson’s bloated cap hit. That alone was probably worth at least an Okhotyuk with Timo returning the equivalent of either three first-rounders, or two firsts and a second. If we’re giving up the second first-rounder it’ll be because we at least made the Conference Finals in one of the next two years so it’s not like we’d be ceding a lottery pick in any case.

What was almost comical is how word of the trade for Meier leaked at 4:30 yet it took over four more hours for all the details to officially leak, secrecy that would have made Lou Lamoriello himself proud. Perhaps the delay was at least in part because Muk was still asleep overseas and couldn’t be notified for a while. Even Zetterlund hadn’t been notified an hour later (per a call from beat guy Ryan Novozinsky) as the trade call still hadn’t gone through at that time. Also apparently an injury concern for one of the minor parts of this deal held things up, per Elliotte Friedman.

Finally we got all the details though, just in time for prime time in the East haha. And almost instantaneously, both Fitzgerald and Meier met the media earlier tonight. In fact, the first thing I’m going to do after finishing this blog is listen to both before bed (or not, after seeing both are about twenty-five minutes long). I’d rather get away from the computer now as it’s been a long day, with too many hours obsessively checking for first whether there would be a trade, then news on the actual trade itself.

One thing I did see though, was the quick four minute hit that Fitzy did with team reporter Amanda Stein on YouTube before the formal presser.

You’d think there wouldn’t be much newsworthy to come out of a four-minute quickie on the team website but, Fitz actually did say something quite notable remarking on how building the team was about ‘adding players like Dougie, adding guys like Palat, bringing in guys like Tatar, signing Jack, Nico and Jesper will be next‘. Uh…what? Assuming Fitzy isn’t drunk on optimism after this trade, there might actually be some light at the end of the tunnel for the Jesper Bratt contract saga now.

He also made the obligatory comment about hoping to sign Meier long-term but if any team’s positioned to do that given our cap space in future years, given our contention window is now wide open and given the Swiss connection, it’s us. Clearly Fitz and the organization isn’t content to just return to the playoffs and take their bows with a gallant early exit, they’re not backing down to the Hurricanes, Rangers or even the Bruins at this point. This is go time and I’m all in for it!

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Devils’ dominance against the Flyers a fitting celebration of ’03 cup champs

On a rare night where the Devils welcomed back many of their Cup-winning icons from the 2003 champions, this current itineration of the Devils had a rare laugher of a win over a once-proud but now clearly rebuilding Flyers team. This, despite the fact for a period plus last night it looked like the same desultory hockey we’ve seen against the Flyers this season, going back all the way to Opening Night when we got smoked in Philly in what seemed like a continuation of the loserdom we’d been afflicted with the previous several years. We also lost a brutal game against them in early December when Damon Severson’s turnover led to the winning goal and his own benching the rest of the night.

Even our only win before last night against Philly came when rookie Akira Schmid had what was then his best game of the season, making 31 saves in a 3-2 win. I’m not gonna lie that I was concerned about their toughness being a bad matchup for us, even more so when I saw Fabian Zetterlund (one of our few physical forwards) was scratched last night. However in the last two periods, finally the talent difference showed for the first and only time this season in the teams’ head-to-head matchup. A talent difference that Flyers coach John Tortorella acknowledged in the postgame:

He’s almost being generous describing it as a few years ago, but in a way it’s true. They are seemingly in the 2015-16 Devils part of their rebuild, only with some dreadful long-term contracts on the books they have to ride out, which we really didn’t have. In my love-hate relationship with Tortorella I’ll give him mad props for taking over a rebuild, usually coaches with his pedigree are above that kind of challenge late in their career and want to go only to win-now teams. Granted, Torts has already gone through the meat grinder with four other teams and everyone knows his style isn’t for the faint of heart, so at a certain point you run out of options if you want to keep coaching but still.

Fortunately we’re finally out of the long, dark tunnel we’ve been stuck in the last few years, and the light at the end of it wasn’t actually an oncoming train. As much as I was tempted to come home and relive every moment of this drubbing, at a certain point you kind of run out of things to say about a 7-0 game. You have to start by giving Schmid credit and congratulations on his first career NHL shutout and a triumphant start to his third act this year after losing his last four games over his prior two callups (though he had a bunch of solid starts before then in his initial callup).

He didn’t have to make a lot of great saves (especially later in the game as it became a rout), but as the saying goes – they don’t ask how, they ask how many. He made every save last night, which was the only thing that mattered. If last night was a great night for the Devils franchise in general, it was also a great night for Switzerland hockey fans – as all three Swiss Devil players earned the three stars of the night, led by a surprising three-point outburst from Jonas Siegenthaler getting him the first goal of the game and the first star on the night. Nico Hischier rounded out the Swiss contingent in the three stars with a goal and an assist of his own.

Really though, you could have picked out like ten guys to be on the three stars list and not gotten much of an argument last night. Yet somehow only three guys managed to have multi-point games in a seven-goal game where all seven goals came from different players. Talk about balanced scoring! Jack Hughes was the other player besides Nico and Siegenthaler to have multiple points and both of them were on typically pretty plays – a breakaway goal in the second period, and an even better spin-o-rama assist on a Jesper Bratt goal in the third period.

At that point you could have cued up the iconic Sweet Georgia Brown (anthem of the Globetrotters) and not been out of place. It’s the kind of beatdown we see so few of, especially against a bitter rival. Ironically, one of the few other laughers we had this season was a game against Torts’ former team in Columbus, a game I missed while watching my football team stink up the joint against its bitter rival.

To have it come on the same night where we honored an iconic championship team made it all the more fun. As expected, the ceremony itself hit every right note. First off, there was definitely a retro feel when the Devils came onto the ice in warmups wearing white jerseys to the sound of the Meadowlands goal horn. Another nice retro touch was playing Standing In Motion – one of the most popular CAA songs – as the background music while the ’03 Devils and staff all got introduced during the ceremony.

It was nice to be able to see and cheer a lot of old heroes, although as fun as it is to cheer Ken Daneyko at a reunion for the thousandth time or Martin Brodeur for the hundredth time, and as nice it is to see Scott Gomez with his storytelling gift of gab (one he freely cops to!), it was just as fun to see guys like Brian Gionta come back to the arena for one of the few times since leaving for Montreal in 2009 and get a nice ovation. Granted, he wasn’t a big part of the 2003 team in just his second season as a back six player, but he soon developed into a more key figure with 21 goals the next season, then the out-of-nowhere 48-goal explosion following the lockout.

To a degree I’d actually have mixed feelings about seeing Hughes break the Gionta team record for goals this year. Don’t get me wrong, Hughes is must-see TV (as fellow 2003 Cup winner Joe Nieuwendyk – among others – put it this week), and should be one of the leaders of the next great Devils team to come so I’ll likely feel differently after some big playoff runs. But at the moment it’s kind of fun having someone like Gio have such a place in Devils history – an unheralded, homegrown guy who developed into a true star, albeit only for the one season. Not to mention his 48-goal season came during a memorable second half that saw the Devils come from way back to earn the division title on the last day of the season in 2006, with Gio’s final two goals pacing the way in the dramatic 0-3 comeback at Montreal.

At this point it’s hard to see Hughes getting to 50 having that kind of meaning in the regular season, although it’s certainly possible they go down to the wire with Carolina for the division this year and that could wind up mattering depending on matchups I suppose. It’s not as if the playoffs were ever really in doubt after the thirteen-game heater early in the season though, other than during the one malaise in December. The 2005-06 Devils actually weren’t a sure thing to make the playoffs as late as mid-March when they were still just eight points above NHL .500, shortly before their eleven-game winning streak to close out the season, win the division and set up an exorcism of the Ranger playoff demon in the first round with a memorable four-game destruction.

Getting back to 2003, and last night – it had one more touching coda with a tribute to the late Pat Burns, punctuated by having his widow carry the Cup onto the ice along with captain Scott Stevens.

It is too bad the coach didn’t get a chance to take part in these festivities himself, and totally shambolic he didn’t get into the Hockey Hall of Fame until a few years after his passing, but at least that team was able to get him a deserved Stanley Cup (and eventual induction into the HHOF, since it’s probably doubtful even a three-time Jack Adams winner gets in without a title). Part of me actually hoped last night’s game ended at 3-0 for the symbolism, given that Game 7 of the SCF in 2003 – and the first two games of the series as well – all ended 3-0 for the home team. Of course, who’s really gonna turn down an extra four goals when you get them?

Now that we’re done looking back, comes looking forward with the trade deadline on Friday afternoon, but speculation is the long-rumored Timo Meier trade will likely be finalized in the next day or two, and probably without an extension – ideally lessening the trade cost, if we’re the ones to acquire the big Swiss winger, as we’ve been favored to for seemingly months. It would certainly be fitting to close out that trade the day after the Devils’ swiss army ambushed the Flyers.

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Listless Rangers receive Capital Punishment, Lindgren injured on Oshie hit, lack of structure hangs Shesterkin out to dry, season worst four-game losing streak as potential Kane deal on horizon

If this had been a prize fight, they would’ve stopped it early. The Caps win by TKO. A struggling team that had lost six in a row all in regulation, they demolished the listless Rangers in blowout fashion, winning a game that was never close by a score of 6-3.

The final tally was misleading. It was pure dominance by a desperate team who’s seen their playoff chances decrease. After trading key cogs Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway to Boston, the Capitals were looking for anything positive headed into Saturday’s early matinee.

They found it thanks to the Rangers, who lost a season worst fourth straight game. Technically, it’s three in a row. The first defeat came at Calgary in overtime. Right now, they can’t get out of their own way. There are too many defensive issues plaguing the team as we approach the much anticipated trade deadline.

With the potential for a Patrick Kane deal imminent, the Rangers pawned off Vitaly Kravtsov to the Canucks for William Lockwood and a seventh round pick in 2026. Essentially, it was a salary dump of a 23-year old player whose value severely decreased in large part due to how things went this season.

If you actually care to read about that story, you can refer to what I wrote previously. I’m not going to rehash it. Kravtsov’s days had been numbered for a while. His $875,000 salary cap hit is off the books. That’s all he was worth.

Prior to the trade, the Rangers waived Jake Leschyshyn. That created more room on the roster. Leschyshyn was a placeholder. He played on the fourth line.

While much of the discussion centered around what was or wasn’t happening off the ice on ABC/ESPN, the Rangers humiliated themselves on national TV. They were brutal. There was again no structure, which led to many easy Capitals’ odd-man rushes in transition. They really made the Rangers pay for their lackluster play by outscoring them 4-0 during a mind-numbing second period.

The game was ugly. It got starred early. On an undisciplined tripping minor that Barclay Goodrow took in the offensive zone, the Rangers penalty killing unit swarmed Alexander Ovechkin. Although that part was good, they completely forgot about T.J. Oshie, who was left alone to tip home an Erik Gustafsson shot for a 1-0 Caps lead at 2:37.

With the Rangers scrambling around, the Caps continued to create scoring chances on Shesterkin. Despite getting chased for five goals on 22 shots with most of the damage coming in a dismal second period, he made several good saves. This isn’t on him. It’s about how poorly the team is playing in front of both goalies. Jaroslav Halak got victimized the other night.

Goodrow would make up for his early penalty. A slumping player who needed a goal in the worst way, he managed to redirect a Tyler Motte shot by Darcy Kuemper to tie the game at 8:00. It was his first goal since Jan. 16. That gets him to 10. Hopefully, that can be a confidence booster for Goodrow.

The ugliest part of the day came when Oshie delivered a tough hit on Ryan Lindgren. What made it so bad was that he crunched Lindgren right into the boards with his left arm exposed. Obviously, in a lot of pain, he immediately went to the locker room and never returned.

This could be a very serious injury. If early reports are any indication, the Rangers could be without the glue of their blue line for a while. It looked bad. Following the game, New York Post columnist Larry Brooks reporter that Lindgren had his left arm in a sling. He’s an important player who really makes a difference. If they’re going to be without him, that’s not encouraging.

On the following shift, Goodrow made Oshie accountable by dropping the gloves. It wasn’t that entertaining a fight. However, the message was delivered.

As far as the hit from Oshie, who immediately checked on Lindgren and apologized as caught on a live mic he was wearing, it’s hard for me to classify the heavy hit dirty. Of course, you never want to see any player get hurt. Especially one who’s as valuable to this team as the gritty warrior wearing number 55.

While Gerard Gallant voiced his displeasure during the postgame about the hit, indicating he felt it should’ve been a five-minute major, I happen to agree with former ref turned ESPN rules analyst Dave Jackson. The hit wasn’t from directly behind. It was one of those hits you see in the league where there’s not much that can be done. I’m sure it’ll continue to be hotly debated.

If there was a disappointing part of the game, it was the Rangers not grabbing momentum from what Goodrow did. They blew a golden opportunity. After Tom Wilson interfered with Niko Mikkola, Evgeny Kuznetsov slashed Filip Chytil, who went down in pain. They reviewed the penalty to determine if it was a major. However, they felt it wasn’t a spear. So, it went as a two-minute slashing minor.

The Rangers still had 57 seconds of a five-on-three. But they never made the Capitals pay for their indiscretions. Kuemper made one good save on a hard Artemi Panarin one-timer. He hardly had to work. The power play was too tentative. They didn’t attack the Caps three penalty killers the way they should have. That really came back to bite them.

In a perplexing period where the shots remained in single digits despite both goalies having to stay busy, the Rangers killed off a Mikola tripping minor for taking down Nicolas Aube-Kubel.

After having to fend for himself by stoning Dylan Strome and household name Trevor van Riemsdyk earlier, Shesterkin made two routine saves on Gustafsson and Kuznetsov. He also was fortunate that Lars Eller missed on an uncontested rush. That’s how defensively inept the Rangers were.

The second was a total meltdown. If you could burn the tape, you would. It was like watching the end of the Alain Vigneault Era. Easy Caps breakouts. Odd-man rushes. Point blank chances. They also buried four past Shesterkin, who was helpless.

Following key Kuemper stops on Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere, here came the Caps. On a play that was symbolic of what’s going wrong, Strome found a wide open Oshie in the slot where he beat Shesterkin over the glove for his second of the day at 3:16.

Even in a game where he was targeted following the big hit that knocked Lindgren out of the game, Oshie took his lumps. Jacob Trouba stepped up on him during a shift. It didn’t matter. Oshie simply played his game. That would also include an assist to give him a Gordie Howe hat trick.

While Shesterkin was left to fend for himself by having to stop another household name in Martin Fehervary, the Caps continued to expose the Rangers defense, which played without Lindgren. That meant Mikkola moved up with an ineffective Adam Fox, who had one of those games. It meant another dizzying performance from K’Andre [Poke Check] Miller. Trouba did what he could. That also meant Ben Harpur back with Braden Schneider. It didn’t go well.

Tom Wilson was able to score from in close to make it 3-1. Trocheck was too late. He’s playing with defensive wizards Panarin and Vladimir Tarasenko. Back Checking Optional.

There was a lot of intensity from both sides. Nick Jensen hit Filip Chytil and Kakko during a shift. Fehervary checked Kakko, who doesn’t like being hit. There was definitely animosity throughout. You could sense the frustration.

Chytil and Kuznetsov got into it during a scrum a couple of shifts later. Each went off for matching roughs. After Trocheck had a tip-in denied by a sharp Kuemper on an excellent Panarin pass, Shesterkin stopped Eller twice.

Back at even strength, Oshie just missed a hat trick with his shot ringing off the goalpost. Both Kuznetsov and Sonny Milano followed up on the rebound, with the latter able to stuff the puck across the goal line before Goodrow could prevent the Caps’ third goal of the period.

How bad was it? Even Dylan McIlrath got a shot on Shesterkin. He played solidly in nearly 16 minutes as an emergency call-up with Orlov gone. Let’s put it this way. Another former high Rangers first round pick, who never saw the time of day under Vigneault, looked more capable than many of our six remaining defensemen.

Kuznetsov would add to the misery late in the second when he got free to convert on a backhand from Aube-Kubel and Fehervary to make it four unanswered Caps’ goals. They led 5-1 after two.

With the Kravtsov news circulating, I couldn’t believe how little they got back. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. He hardly played recently. That was Gallant’s choice. It really hurt his value. I’ve seen many people only blaming Kravtsov due to what happened last season. That was near the end of 2021. If this was how it was going to be, why did they even bring him back? It never made sense.

By the third period, I had tuned out. The ESPN/ABC feed was horrible. The audio sounded like it was coming from a basement or sewer. It’s pretty embarrassing. Yikes. Not many people like their telecasts. But the Ray Ferraro hate is ridiculous. He’s a pro and is very good.

I did switch to ESPN Radio to listen to Don LaGreca and Dave Maloney. I like LaGreca. He’s always been a good guy who’s worked hard at his craft. Too bad be works with such a pompous blowhard during the week.

With the game all but decided, it was easier to listen to LaGreca call the action. The Caps tried their best to get the Blueshirts back in the game. Both Wilson and Strome received minor penalties with 14:14 remaining to hand them a full two-minute two-man advantage.

This time, Chris Kreider was able to cash in with his 25th goal when he redirected in a Fox shot to cut the deficit to 5-2 with still over 13 minutes left. However, the Rangers couldn’t convert on the second part of the power play.

Even though they played better in the third period, it was too little too late. Wilson and Ovechkin combined to send Kuznetsov on a breakaway against reliever Halak. He pulled a Forsberg to score for the second time with 6:38 left. That put it out of reach. It also was Kuznetsov’s fourth point of the game.

Gallant predictably sprinkled in some changes to his lines. He had Tarasenko take shifts with Lafreniere and Chytil. Kakko moved up to play with Zibanejad and Kreider.

In what was a goal in garbage time, Kakko put home his 12th from Kreider and Zibanejad at 19:32. It was just window dressing. Otherwise, what a forgettable game. Losing to a slumping team that’s looking to retool. The definition of a bad loss.

There’s nothing more to say. As Gallant and Trouba said afterward, it’s time to move on. The Kings visit MSG on Sunday. That’ll be the Rangers’ third game over four days. They need to respond. They’re lucky the Islanders laid an egg in a 3-2 home loss on Friday to those same Kings. Otherwise, the lead for third would be down to six.

Of course, they have more games remaining. Three more than the Islanders, who are in the first wildcard position with 67 points. But they only have 20 left. The Rangers have 23 to go. They’re still solidly in third place, six behind the Devils who are honoring their 2003 Stanley Cup team tonight.

If a trade happens, I’ll be back with more. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

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Kravtsov dumped to Canucks for cap room, Kane next?

In what amounted to a salary dump, the Rangers dealt Vitaly Kravtsov to the Canucks in exchange for William Lockwood and a 2026 seventh round pick.

Once thought by the organization as a key piece to the rebuild when he was selected ninth overall in the 2018 NHL Draft under former GM Jeff Gorton, it didn’t work out for Kravtsov.

After showing promise initially by scoring two goals and adding two assists over 20 games under David Quinn, the Rangers prospect made the mistake of going back home to Russia to play in the KHL. Displeased over not making the NHL roster in 2021-22, which led to him being sent down to Hartford, Kravtsov got bad advice from his agent.

He decided not to play for the Wolf Pack in the AHL. Instead, he returned home to play for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL. After struggling initially, Kravtsov finished with six goals and seven assists in 19 games last season. A good showing in the Gagarin Cup Playoffs helped him.

Despite putting in a trade request, he and the current Team President and GM Chris Drury were able to work out their differences. Kravtsov returned to the Rangers for his second opportunity on Broadway. He found it hard to crack the lineup and play consistently under coach Gerard Gallant.

Early injuries didn’t help. However, once he got healthy, Kravtsov was moved around by Gallant. Without any line consistency that also affected Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko during the first half, his ice time fluctuated. There was a good stretch in January where he was playing better hockey. But Gallant didn’t have enough patience to stick with him.

In a lineup where the demanding coach preferred the more experienced two-way capabilities of Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow, Kravtsov became the odd man out. Once they acquired Vladimir Tarasenko, he was only given one game to play by Gallant. Despite the Rangers winning over Seattle on Feb. 10 with Vincent Trocheck and Chris Kreider producing, the coach singled out Kravtsov. He never played another game.

Instead, waiver wire pickup Jake Leschyshyn played over him. The reasoning was that Kravtsov was not a fourth line player. While that’s true, was there any harm in trying him with Goodrow and Tyler Motte? At least they could’ve showcased him.

Instead, a player who had three goals and three assists in 28 games had his value plummet. So devalued was Kravtsov that there was hardly any interest. He is a restricted free agent after the season. Perhaps the threat of returning to the KHL scared potential suitors off.

It doesn’t fully explain the lack of asset management by the Rangers. They basically got nothing in return for a former first round pick who has the skating and capability to become a top nine forward. Gallant’s words.

Despite how he was handled, Kravtsov showed up early for team practices and morning skates. He continued to prepare as if he were playing. Something beat reporters Mollie Walker and Vince Mercogliano noted along with Colin Stephenson. If he had such a bad attitude, that wouldn’t be the case.

At some point, Kravtsov realized he was never going to get a realistic chance here. Once Gallant settled on a top nine that included Vesey playing with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, it was obvious that the writing was on the wall. With Artemi Panarin playing alongside Tarasenko and Trocheck, that left Lafreniere with Kakko and Filip Chytil on the cohesive third line that played a key role during last year’s playoffs.

The last two games, the Rangers went with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen due to “roster management.” The translation for trade coming. With all the rumors surrounding Patrick Kane, who apparently only would waive his full no-movement clause for the Rangers, it was very apparent that Drury had to create room to acquire Kane. He didn’t practice Friday and wasn’t with the Blackhawks today. They’re scheduled to play the Sharks, who will again scratch the much rumored Timo Meier.

By having the Canucks absorb the $875,000 salary Kravtsov makes that freed up enough cap space to make the much anticipated move that’s been over-discussed forever. If Kane has agreed to waive his NMC, he could be a Ranger by later tonight.

It’s only a question of who goes back to the Blackhawks. They don’t have any leverage, which means the return for the future Hall Of Famer won’t be that good. Assuming it happens this weekend, who knows what the package will consist of.

If you’re a Blackhawks fan, you should be disappointed. It’s not going to be fair value for a great player who was instrumental in helping the franchise win three Stanley Cups. One of the greatest players in Blackhawks history, Kane has totaled 446 goals with 779 assists for 1,225 points. His last game was on Feb. 22. He left an imprint on Dallas by scoring twice and setting up a goal in a Hawks’ 4-3 comeback win over the Stars. His last four games, Kane went 7-3-10.

The Rangers weren’t even expecting to be in this position. They thought once they acquired Vladimir Tarasenko along with defenseman Niko Mikkola, whose importance has become crucial due to the injury Ryan Lindgren suffered in an ugly blowout 6-3 loss to the Capitals earlier this afternoon, they were not going to be in on Kane.

However, things have drastically changed over the past week. With Kane proving healthy and many sources hinting that he only would accept a trade to NYC, that had to alter the Rangers’ plans. If you can get a player of Kane’s caliber on the cheap, it’s understandable why Drury would change his mind.

This is a player who had instant chemistry with Artemi Panarin, who spent his first two years in Chicago before they couldn’t afford him. The unique combination of Kane and Panarin is irresistible. Especially based on the thought process.

While the current roster is having issues keeping pucks out of their net due to a defensive collapse that’s led to the longest winless streak (0-3-1) of the season, they’re hoping a trade for Kane would re-energize the club. They imploded once T.J. Oshie delivered a tough hit on Ryan Lindgren that ended his day. Lindgren, who was seen wearing a sling on his left arm, is the glue of the blue line. If it is what I fear, he could be out for significant time. Eight weeks possibly.

If the worst-case scenario happens, it could alter what Drury does between now and March 3. He can add Kane, which still could require a third team to absorb some salary. Similar to what the Wild did when they were involved in recent trades with Toronto and Boston. However, losing Lindgren for a critical stretch could change things.

At the moment, the Rangers have six defensemen who’ll play tomorrow when the Kings visit MSG. Adam Fox. Jacob Trouba. K’Andre Miller. Niko Mikkola. Braden Schneider. Ben Harpur. What’s the story with Zac Jones? An AHL All-Star who probably deserves another shot is he part of a proposed trade for Kane? Or will he be recalled tomorrow.

There are many questions that still must be answered. With Kravtsov no longer a Ranger, he’ll finally have a better chance to play. However, if he thinks it’ll be easy under new Canucks bench boss Rick Tocchet, he better think again. Tocchet expects a lot from his forwards. It took Andrei Kuzmenko a few games to adjust. Now, he’s back to scoring goals.

Whether or not Gallant was sincere in what he said about Kravtsov, it came off fake. He never really warmed up to him. However, it’s time to move on. Best of luck to Kravtsov.

Now, we wait to hear about a bigger deal involving an American legend.

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Devils continue their comeback ways as trade deadline and ’03 Cup reunion approach

At this point the Devils have become a weekly TV action series – start each episode by putting the protagonist in peril, then one way or another they find their way out of it. Our comeback heroics during this breakout year have become so pronounced, I’m literally starting to hope we just don’t use them all up during the regular season now. Coming from 2-0 behind last night against the Kings, and then rallying from 3-2 down in the final minute with an empty-net goal from Nico Hischier is a script we’ve seen quite a few times this year, both with the multi-goal comeback and with the game-tying empty netter late.

What made last night’s comeback particularly meaningful is that Dawson Mercer continued his breakout month with two goals (including the winner in OT) and an assist, giving the second-year forward a total of seven goals and nine points in his last five games. Mercer’s connection with Tomas Tatar got the Devils back in the game, first with Mercer winning a puck behind the net and getting it to Tatar in front for a goal late in the second, then Tatar returned the favor early in the third. Mercer himself couldn’t help but notice how both goals were remarkably similar.

Having a second line emerge would be huge for this team’s playoff chances. Perhaps the deadline will see some further alteration to the Devils’ forward group. It’s almost become a catch-22 though, on the one hand you don’t want to make some big, seismic trade that messes up the chemistry of a team that’s winning in such dramatic, pulsating ways. On the other hand, let’s face it – some of these results would probably be different in the playoffs if you had normal sudden death overtime instead of the 3-on-3 mini-game. We’ve excelled in the latter this season, we’ll have to figure out how to win the former when the time comes.

Still, it took a fair amount of resolve just to get to the mini-game last night after one comeback to tie the game at two, the Devils suffered a breakdown at an inopportune moment with Sean Durzi scoring off a cross-ice feed from (who else?) Anze Kopitar. Although the Devils did a good job limiting the volume of chances last night, the Kings took advantage of the quality in the few chances they did give up with Kopitar scoring a breakaway reminiscent of his 2012 Stanley Cup Final OT winner in the first period, then Victor Arvidsson scored on a two-on-one to put the Kings up two in the first period. After a rare off night against the Habs on Tuesday, it looked like we were about to go back into a malaise.

Of course, the Devils said not so fast my friend – first tying the game early in the third, then re-tying the game in the final minute with more dramatics, this time courtesy of the two franchise centers when a Jack Hughes feed found Nico open in front of the net for a redirection goal that tied the game again.

That goal was only a prelude to the dramatic winner, though quite deserved given that the Devils pretty much controlled play throughout the extra period as the Kings seemingly tried to play prevent and take their chances with the shootout. Can’t say I blame them on the one hand, as I said earlier we’ve been money in the extra session this year and Dougie Hamilton’s been a big reason why. He was once again instrumental in a winner last night, working a give-and-go with Mercer for the winner.

So far it’s been at least a decent homestand, sandwiching a dominant win over the Jets on Sunday and last night with Tuesday’s dud against a team in the Bedard Cup Playoffs. Tuesday’s 5-2 loss against the Habs actually ended our six-game home winning streak, but one that was hard to realize even was a streak considering those six wins came over a six-week span, given our two long road trips and All-Star bye week break since early January.

I’d rather not do any big picture analysis even though the big picture is almost upon us with the trade deadline about a week and a half away, and the playoffs less than two months away. I’ve already heard and read enough Timo Meier analysis (and more specifically analysis of potential trade packages) to drive me up a wall. Watch the Sharks troll everyone and take a total pass on trading him, waiting for the kind of return that doesn’t generally happen anymore. Reports suggest they’re holding out for Mercer to be included in such a deal, good luck with that – especially with him carving out his own niche as a key forward now. Teams just don’t trade twenty-one year old roster players like that in a cap system anymore. Lou Lamoriello dealing Brendan Morrison and others for Alexander Mogilny was a lifetime ago, pre-cap and pre-current FA rules.

Admittedly, Timo would round out the top six quite nicely and this Devils team could certainly use more depth come playoff time even if they don’t land that big fish. Especially with the rest of the East arming up, the Bruins’ statement trade last night put the league on notice, especially given their success already this year.

Our immediate concerns are more local though, given our position in the standings it’s likely we wouldn’t have to face the Bruins until the Eastern Conference Finals, which…would be a great problem to have. Assuming the Devils stay in the top three of the East, we have to concern ourselves more with the Rangers and Canes. And both teams are looking to load up as well – the Rangers have already struck with the Vladimir Tarasenko trade, not to mention the Patrick Kane speculation while the Canes are the other main speculated suitor for Timo. In theory winning the division and avoid the prospect of having to beat both Carolina and New York to get out of our bracket would be nice, but again I’m not gonna stress over seeding. Especially if we would only wind up playing a live underdog like the Islanders or last year’s President’s Cup winning Panthers.

Besides big picture future speculation, we’re also coming up on another celebration of the team’s storied past on Saturday – specifically the 20th reunion of the 2003 Stanley Cup champions, the third and (so far) last one in franchise history. It couldn’t come at a better time since for the first time in a decade, we can now see a path forward for the next great era of Devils hockey. Ironically that was the one playoff year where seeding and home-ice mattered, after the road warrior Devils won in 1995 and 2000 in large part by dominating away from New Jersey to the tune of a combined 20-3 road record, in 2003 it was all about home-ice with Pat Burns’ line matching, timely goalscoring and a stifling defense with Martin Brodeur in net leading the way to a third Cup in nine years.

For all my kvetching about how we won Cups as middle seeds in ’95 and ’00 while flaming out as top seeds in between and plenty of years after that, in ’03 winning the division over the Flyers by one point proved vital – both in ensuring home-ice for at least the first two rounds, and by avoiding what proved to be the stronger part of the draw that year. It doesn’t always work out that way but it seemed like some higher power was at work in 2003.

How else to explain swinging and missing on Teemu Selanne at the deadline, only for the unexciting deadline acquisitions of Grant Marshall and Pascal Rheaume to pay off big-time? Or all of Jeff Friesen’s timely goalscoring in the last two rounds of the playoffs? Granted, Friesen was a solid player for a decade in the NHL though he always got tagged with the weight of failed expectations out West after being an #11 overall pick, the narrative was always somehow about what he didn’t do – except in the 2003 postseason.

Maybe it was a higher power that helped Scott Stevens return after a scary head injury in the second round of the playoffs. These days he’d likely be in concussion protocol for weeks after being taken out of Game 3 after a Pavel Kubina dump-in slapshot went right off the side of his head. In 2003, he came right back into the lineup in Game 4 scoring a key goal and resuming his shutdown role of top-line players (in Tampa’s case, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis).

Of course the defining series that year – even more than the surprisingly tense Finals win over the Ducks – was the Conference Finals against Ottawa. After two deceptively easy 4-1 series wins against Boston and Tampa Bay, the Devils entered as decided underdogs to the more talented President’s Trophy winners, led by young studs who we’d be hearing about for decades to come…Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, even a teenage Jason Spezza who drew in and had a big goal in Game 5.

We may have been the underdogs, but experience, guile and heart carried the day as the Devils ran out to a surprising 3-1 lead – all after a crushing Game 1 OT loss to boot! Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy against the best team in the league that year and the Senators followed a tight home win in Game 5 with a potentially crushing Game 6 OT winner in New Jersey. Being in the building for that game, I was in between expectant and hopeful to see the Devils win the conference trophy that night. After all, they’d already put up an 8-0 home record in the playoffs and logic said that was the game they needed to win that game to hold on in the series, but a gut-wrenching 2-1 defeat only set up an even more dramatic Game 7.

Falling behind on the road early only served to make the final chapters of this story even more compelling, as Jamie Langenbrunner’s two goals put the Devils back on the front foot and compelled Ottawa coach Jacques Martin to use his timeout early in the second period to settle his team down. Settle down they did, ironically it was a Friesen giveaway that led to Ottawa’s tying goal early in the third. Coach Burns joked afterward (or was it a joke?) that he told Friesen you owe me now. Boy, did he pay up – with the best assist of his career from Marshall on what would prove to be the Devils’ winning goal late in the third.

The Bob Cole call on CBC of the actual goal was much better than the Gary Thorne one (though Cole did amusingly mistake Marshall #29 for Scott Gomez #23, especially since Marshall had a rare Gomer-esque feed on the play), Thorne almost seemed to be willing a disallowed goal with his blunder that forever ruined the ESPN version of the call. Clearly the goal stood though, and the Devils wound up taking out the Senators at the death.

With a Stanley Cup Finals appearance set against the Cinderella Ducks, it was the Devils who were back in the role of favorite for this series. It would prove to be a home cooking series as the Devils followed stifling shutout wins in Games 1 and 2 with dramatic OT losses in Games 3 and 4 that put us back on the ropes. An unusually wild 6-3 win in Game 5 was followed by a 5-2 loss at the Pond where they seemingly took momentum after star Paul Kariya came back into the game after being laid out by Stevens and scored the put-away goal in the second period.

Back to another Game 7, this time at home. Again I was in the building hoping to see the once-in-a-lifetime celebration. All while laid up with a flu/bronchitis combo. In a post-COVID world I’d have to take a pass on going. Even then I knew I was gutting it out, but I also knew that I could live another hundred years and never have a chance to see a Cup raising in NJ. Losing was unthinkable, but we know deep down nothing’s guaranteed in sports. There was always going to be the chance I’d have dragged myself there only for a gut-wrenching defeat. I did believe in the 2003 team though, after all our tight wins and consistency that year.

If I had any doubts before the game, many of them were alleviated when the pregame scratches were announced. How, you ask? Franchise icon Ken Daneyko was by then in his final season of a gritty two-decade long career. After having played every playoff game in franchise history heading into 2003, he got rotated in and out of the lineup during the postseason that year and for much of the Finals he was on the bench in favor of younger skaters. Yet, when the scratches were announced before Game 7, Daneyko’s name wasn’t among them – sending up the first roar from the crowd of the evening who all realized what I did, he was going to get to play the final game of the season and likely the final game of his career for the Cup.

Maybe they didn’t need a storybook element to overcome a storybook team, but it sure didn’t hurt to give the team and the fans a little extra emotional jolt. Especially as the final shift of Dano’s career helped preserve a 3-0 shutout that clinched the Devils’ third Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Little did anyone know that it would be the last true season of greatness in the Devils’ run as an elite franchise, although there’d be more division titles and playoff appearances to come over the next decade – and even a surprise Finals appearance in 2012 when almost everyone from the 2003 team other than Brodeur and Lou had moved on. Stevens may have been able to grin and bear it that postseason, but unfortunately the aftereffects from his concussion wound up cutting his 2004 season short and sending him into a quiet retirement after the 2004-05 lockout. Burns only coached that one more year before cancer struck and just like that, two of the signature figures from 2003 were no longer there. Friesen himself only had one more season with the Devils as well, perhaps never really recovering from the long lockout since he had two unproductive seasons with three different teams after it.

Hard to believe it has been twenty years since then. It’ll be nice to see most of the 2003 team in attendance. Unfortunately a few key members will not be there, including Friesen who unfortunately has a conflict (given that ex-teammate Patrick Marleau will have his number retired by the Sharks tomorrow night in San Jose), as well as ace checkers John Madden and Jay Pandolfo, who both have other jobs in hockey – Madden as an assistant in Arizona, Pandolfo as the head coach at Boston University. And the unfortunate too-soon passing of Pat Burns in 2010 means that he’ll be represented by his widow.

Almost everyone else will be there however, including Lou taking time away from a busy pre-deadline week to join the festivities. Our YouTube page has already had a few short interviews with alumni from that team and no doubt will have more. In some ways, the 2003 team was my favorite of the three winners, even if it was objectively the least talented – although because of that, the 2003 Cup was also more unexpected than the other two.

Granted, there’s my inherent bias to consider of actually seeing the Cup being presented – illness and all. Still, in 1995 I was still a neophyte hockey fan, and there was always the backdrop of a rumored move to Nashville clouding our success that year (which winning the Cup arguably helped stop). 2000 was obviously the most dramatic ending of the three with Jason Arnott’s goal in double OT of Game 6, knocking out the defending champs on their home ice but that team also underachieved at times before a coaching change snapped them into first gear toward the end of the regular season, then an uncharacteristic tirade from Larry Robinson after Game 4 of the Conference Finals spurred the Devils back from the brink that year.

In 2003, while the team certainly found itself on the brink numerous times in the last two rounds of the postseason, they maintained a single-minded focus throughout and never had the mental lapses other more talented Devil teams of the recent past had. Sure they still had talent – two HOF’ers on defense, a HOF’er in net and hopefully at least one HOF’er up front (Patrik Elias), but that group characterized team in every sense of the word.

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After getting stoned by Hellebuyck, disjointed Rangers drop second straight to improved Red Wings, Kane rumors persist, lack of structure an issue along with defense

All winning streaks eventually fade away. When they lost to Calgary in overtime, that was acceptable. The Rangers battled back from an early two-goal deficit to earn a point against a desperate Flames, who got a much needed win on a power play goal.

Even the most recent 4-1 loss on home ice to the Jets wasn’t bad. How can you lose sleep over a game where the Rangers out-shot Winnipeg 51-21? They were stoned by Vezina candidate Connor Hellebuyck, who made 50 saves on Monday night.

The Jets also got timely goals thanks to the skill of Mark Scheifele (2 goals), Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Kyle Connor coming through. Of the four goals, Igor Shesterkin probably wanted the first Scheifele tally back. It wasn’t a good rebound to give up. Connor beat him for the key third goal high blocker. Scheifele finished it off with a wicked backhand around K’Andre Miller.

In what was their first loss in regulation since Jan. 19 versus Boston, the Rangers lost the special teams battle. Their power play took the collar while their penalty kill allowed a power play goal to Dubois, who had the fortune of a Josh Morrissey shot banking off his knee past Shesterkin.

If you wanted to critique something, it was the defense. Despite dominating most of the play at five-on-five, they gave up some easy goals due to not defending well enough. Even during the second seven-game winning streak, that had been a sore spot. They only gave up less than three goals to the Hurricanes in a 6-2 win. The Artemi Panarin four-goal game.

For a long time, they’d played well enough to put together a dominant 22-4-5 stretch that coincided with Jacob Trouba erupting during a bad home loss to the lowly Blackhawks near the end of the second period. His message got through loud and clear. They turned it around immediately by winning seven in a row.

For over two months, they went from not being in a playoff position to solidifying themselves in the top three of the Metropolitan Division. Prior to the loss to Winnipeg, it wasn’t hard to envision the Blueshirts catching and passing the rival Devils for second place.

However, it became a bit harder after Thursday night’s disappointing 4-1 loss at the Red Wings. Combine that with a riveting Devils’ late comeback to prevail 4-3 in overtime over the Kings, and the Rangers now trail their Hudson rival by six points with 24 games remaining.

It’s frustrating. However, all is not lost. As we draw nearer to next Friday’s March 3 NHL Trade Deadline, rumors persist that Chris Drury might not be done. After adding Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola, who might play a bigger role than first thought, the Rangers Team President and GM should have enough room to add another key player.

Even with TSN insiders Darren Dreger, Chris Johnston, and Pierre LeBrun all but confirming that Patrick Kane still hasn’t made a decision with the Blackhawks, there were enough off ice distractions caused by the Rangers’ decision to scratch both Vitaly Kravtsov and Jake Leschyshyn for as they termed, “roster management.”

To me, it was just a bunch of bs from a tight-lipped organization that doesn’t exactly tip-off too many insiders to what they’re doing. Things are very close to the vest with Drury running things. Kravtsov was never getting back into the lineup due to Gerard Gallant. What difference does it make? Leschyshyn is a placeholder.

So, in a perplexing decision that made no sense, the Rangers went with an 11 forward, 7 defensemen alignment. The results were predictable. They never had any chemistry or consistency during Thursday’s game. It amounted to a wasted opportunity.

With Gallant being forced to dress Ben Harpur as a seventh defenseman, he only had 11 forwards to work with while hardly using Harpur (4 shifts for 2:50). It wasn’t exactly the right time to be tinkering against a resurgent Red Wings team that’s pushing for the playoffs.

Detroit has gone from being 14th and looking totally out of it to making a charge up the standings. With their seventh win in eight, they jumped into the second wildcard position over the slumping Penguins, who look finished. They were blown out by Edmonton 7-2 at home, dropping their fourth in a row. The only saving grace is that they still have 25 games left.

While both the battle-tested Pens and Capitals (lost sixth straight to Ducks 4-2) are going in the wrong direction, the Islanders are in the first wildcard position with 67 points. They only have 21 games remaining. The addition of Bo Horvat and hot goaltending of Ilya Sorokin has carried them. The Pens have 63 points, and Caps have 62. But Washington has only 22 left, including a pivotal matinee on Saturday against the Rangers.

The Panthers have climbed back into it with 64 points. They’re playing better, but they also have only 22 to go. With an exciting 6-5 overtime win over the Lightning that featured Tage Thompson scoring his fourth hat trick of the season, the Sabres are up to 62 with 26 left. Even crazier defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin scored a shorthanded goal for his first of the season to win it.

Given how unpredictable the wildcard race is with all the aforementioned teams jockeying for position, it’s going to be impossible to figure out who’ll make it. Fortunately for the Rangers, they have a nice cushion with 75 points sitting in third place. Eight up on the Islanders. But they have three more games remaining.

The way the Eastern Conference is set up, it’s going to be some battle this spring. With both the Maple Leafs and Bruins loading up, who’s next? Boston made their big move by acquiring defenseman Dmitry Orlov and grinding forward Garnet Hathaway from the Caps in exchange for first, second, and third round picks. A fifth also went to the Wild, who retained 50 percent of the Orlov contract to help the Bruins out. Also going to Washington is Craig Smith and Andrei Svetlakov.

Prior to Boston upgrading their blue line and forward depth for what they hope will be a deep run into June for the Cup, it was the Maple Leafs who made a big splash in trading for playoff proven Ryan O’Reilly and depth center Noel Acciari from the Blues, who are big sellers. They were able to add the Leafs’ first round pick and the rights to Ottawa’s third round pick in 2023. They also received Toronto’s second round pick in 2024. St. Louis acquired Mikhail Abramov and Adam Gaudette. The Wild received a 2025 fifth round pick from the Leafs to help Toronto with O’Reilly.

These are significant moves by two serious contenders. Will the Lightning do anything before next week’s deadline to help improve their roster for the likely first round heavyweight rematch with the Maple Leafs?

In the Metro, you have the Hurricanes and Devils rumored to be interested in adding big fish Timo Meier. Is there a third team lurking? You never know.

As for Kane, he suddenly got hot. He’s scored seven goals and added three assists for 10 points over his last four games with the Blackhawks. It’s the only franchise he’s ever known. The American legend has responded by being the electrifying star player he’s always been. Showtime knows what’s around the corner. He has full control over whether he stays or goes.

We know he likes the Rangers. He felt that once they went out and got Tarasenko, that dream was dead. But not so fast. The bigger question for them is whether Kane is going to address the issues that are becoming an alarming trend.

Patrick Kane is a great player who’ll make any contender better. That’s ‘if’ he agrees to waive his NMC. He’s expected to meet his agent this weekend and discuss the matter with the Blackhawks. They’re in overtime. That’s why all the hoopla surrounding a Kane trade to the Rangers last night felt fake. When trusted sources up north stated otherwise, it made no sense for anyone to run with the story. Anything for cheap clicks.

Why don’t we wait and see how things play out? None of the talk helped the Rangers last night in Detroit. They played soft and were belted around by a hungry Red Wings pretty good.

The lasting image will be Panarin getting knocked down by Michael Rasmussen, who was a factor throughout the game. He scored and set up a goal. Then, he became the target of an incensed Adam Fox, who went after him following his takedown of Panarin, who got right up.

It’s not what you want to see. Fox isn’t the defenseman who should be fighting Panarin’s battles. He’s too valuable. You also had Alexis Lafreniere going after Jake Walman, leading to a fight behind the net. There was a lot of frustration.

That’s how well it went. In his second game, since returning for a Broadway encore, Motte dove and blocked a shot that saw the puck hit him in the face. He immediately skated off to the locker room for repairs. That left Gallant with 10 forwards for a good portion of the first period.

It wasn’t exactly fun to watch. Detroit did a good job limiting time and space. They blanketed Panarin, who didn’t find much operating room. The one time he did, he nearly connected with Tarasenko for a goal. But a Red Wings player broke it up for a key defensive play.

The Wings sure defended well by breaking up passes and blocking shots. They totaled 22 blocks, including seven from Ben Chiarot. Mo Seider blocked six. As a team, the Rangers had nine. Detroit was also more physical. They delivered a few big hits, including a textbook check by Walman that drew cheers from over 19,000 at Little Caesars Arena.

The lack of grit from the Rangers was a noticeable difference. They wound up out-shooting the Red Wings 10-7 in the first. But quality chances were hard to come by. Even an early delay of game minor that wasn’t exactly the right call didn’t get them going.

For a while, shots stayed at 7-6 Rangers. It was sloppy. There wasn’t much rhythm. If you were hoping for a track meet, that’s not how the Red Wings play anymore. They are more disciplined and structured. They’ve improved overall under first-year coach Derek Lalonde. The former Lightning assistant coach has them on the right track.

One of the things Gallant tried was plugging Barclay Goodrow due to not having a fourth line. It’s been a tough go for Goodrow lately. He’s without a goal since Jan. 16. Counting last night, that’s nine games without a point. He is a key player who can play any role. But he’s been stuck on nine goals and 14 assists for a while.

On one shift, Goodrow got caught out with Mika Zibanejad and Jimmy Vesey. It didn’t go well. Almost immediately, the Red Wings transitioned up ice, leading to David Perron and Rasmussen combining to set up Andrew Copp for an easy goal at 15:33. Zibanejad was the closest player but got beat easily to the net.

In the second period, the Rangers picked up their game. Beginning to establish more of a sustained attack, they had the Red Wings on their heels during some extended shifts. They didn’t cash in on the forecheck pressure. The Wings survived due to keeping the shots outside.

For a second straight game, Vincent Trocheck stayed hot. On a play in the neutral zone, he stole the puck and moved in and beat Husso for an unassisted rally at 6:06. It was a strong play by a player who’s on a good streak. Since scoring a goal and an assist in a home win back on Jan. 27, he has 12 points (4-8-12) over the last 10 games. It’s by far the best stretch of the season for Trocheck.

If only Sam Rosen knew it was Trocheck that scored the goal. He originally said Panarin. He wasn’t even out for it. Ugh. We all love him for what he’s provided us for over four decades. But it’s time. Rosen makes too many mistakes. We’ll always have 1994. It has lasted “a lifetime.”

Maybe the most disappointing aspect of this game was how soon the Red Wings responded. Detroit captain Dylan Larkin had enough time to center for a wide open Filip Zadina for an easy finish that Jaroslav Halak had no chance on. That restored a one-goal lead for the Wings 2:12 later. There was a lot of puck watching on the go-ahead goal. Too much.

At near the halfway point, a controversial decision took forever thanks to the sleepless NHL War Room in Toronto. Ryan Lindgren got his stick up and cross-checked Rasmussen at center ice. Nobody knew what was called by refs Jake Brenk and Chris Lee.

Both Rosen and Joe Micheletti seemed clueless as to whether the original call was a minor for cross-checking or a major penalty. It was a state of confusion that wasn’t helped by how long Lee was on with Toronto. It was ridiculous. This is exactly why I can’t stand these conferences. They take so long that it takes away from the game. The fans and viewers are just left waiting along with the players.

After what felt like forever, Lee explained that Lindgren received a two-minute minor for cross-checking Rasmussen. I didn’t agree. He easily could’ve gotten a five-minute major for that careless swing. Lindgren is a clean player. It wasn’t good to see. In any event, the Rangers went on to kill the penalty without a problem.

On what felt like a momentum turning shift where they had the Red Wings gassed, Lindgren found a cutting Fox for what looked like the tying goal. However, a quick reacting Husso dove across and on the full stretch made a phenomenal pad save to keep the puck out. It probably was on the goal line. That’s how remarkable a save it was. He’s been a big part of the Wings’ surge up the standings.

Fox couldn’t believe it. He’d later get another wide open look. However, he sent his shot from the slot over the net and out of play. Husso made 12 saves in the period. None were bigger than his clutch stop on Fox.

With under two minutes remaining, the Rangers fell asleep again to give up a crushing late goal. On this one, nobody defended anyone. Copp moved the puck over for a Perron shot that Halak made a good save on. But with Miller not staying with his man, that left Rasmussen all alone for an easy put away to make it 3-1 with 1:58 left.

Just brutal. Miller had his man and then over skated and wound up out of the play. Making matters worse, you had Tarasenko gliding back with Lafreniere and Filip Chytil, who didn’t have a good game. Neither did Zibanejad or Tarasenko, who plays too much on the perimeter for my liking. He was coming off his best game against Winnipeg. He has to be more active.

Before the late fireworks in the third with the game decided, the Rangers got caught on another bad line change. They received a bench minor for too many men. This has become a bad habit. How many times are they going to screw up a line change? That is something that must get corrected.

On the second half of the power play, Dominik Kubalik worked the puck over to Copp, who moved it back to Filip Hronek. With Oskar Sundqvist setting a good screen in front, he fired a perfect laser that went stick side past Halak, who couldn’t see it. That made it 4-1 with 15:09 left in regulation.

Even though they’ve proven they can come back due to the improved offense, the Rangers weren’t coming back against the Red Wings. With Husso dialed in and the Wings paying better attention to detail, there was no chance.

At least Motte returned to play the final two periods. He actually was one of the best forwards due to his straightforward approach. He and Goodrow nearly combined on a goal against the Jets. That turned out to be a huge difference with Hellebuyck stopping Motte in front on a delayed call.

Motte plays the game the right way. He plays it with an edge and purpose like Goodrow. Both support forwards will be key players in the postseason, just like last year. If you want to go far, you need four lines. Whatever they decide before March 3, it should be done with that in mind.

Maybe it’s not a Kane. But an Ivan Barbashev. A gritty two-way forward with skill. He’s also on the Blues, who are having a fire sale. Keep an eye on him. Mike Rupp talked about Barbashev on NHL Network. He thinks that’s the kind of player who can make a difference in the loaded East.

Perhaps it’s Sean Monahan. If he returns from injury before the deadline, the Habs could move him. He’s got experience and can plug in well on a fourth line. He’s also a center.

I am in agreement with Rupp. It’s not always the sexy move that wins at this time of year. Tampa won thanks to adding gritty guys with character such as Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Nick Paul nearly helped them three-peat last year.

In ’94, there’s no Cup without Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Ditto for Brian Noonan and the overlooked Steve Larmer, who’s been passed over too many times by the Hockey Hall Of Fame. Those were the glue guys. No run in 2014 without Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, Daniel Carcillo, and Derek Dorsett. It’s those types that are needed.

I would say more. But it’s late. The Three Stars are below. The second consecutive game, it’s all the opponent.

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A day after win streak ends to Flames in overtime loss, Rangers re-acquire Motte from Senators, Halak gets team a point

The Rangers completed their three-game Western Canadian road trip late last night in Calgary. Although they had their win streak snapped at seven, it wasn’t all bad.

After giving up two straight Flames goals over eight seconds in an ugly start, they were able to hang around thanks to Jaroslav Halak. He made 29 saves, including 28 in regulation to keep the Blueshirts in the game long enough to rally for a point.

The Flames got early goals from Andrew Mangiapane (breakaway) and Nazem Kadri (one-timer) taking advantage of sloppy play from both K’Andre Miller and Adam Fox. Before the game was a minute old, Gerard Gallant had that death look on the bench with his lethargic team struggling early in the second game of a back-to-back.

However, the third Calgary goal never came. Give credit to Halak, who’s played unbelievably lately. He entered, having won seven straight decisions. Neither goal was his fault. All he did was pick up the team by making key saves that allowed them to find their footing.

In a first period controlled by the more aggressive Flames, who used their grinding forecheck to slow the pace, they held a 13-7 edge in shots. Jacob Markstrom was only tested once. He looked sharp.

With nothing going, Gallant made a change to his lines. Vladimir Tarasenko hasn’t had much chemistry with Mika Zibanejad or Chris Kreider. After getting his first goal only 2:43 into his Rangers debut on a nifty setup from Artemi Panarin, he’d been fairly quiet.

Sensing it was time to create a spark, Gallant moved Tarasenko down to the second line with Panarin and Vincent Trocheck. He also had Kaapo Kakko take some shifts up with Zibanejad and Kreider. Barclay Goodrow worked with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. He also worked Jimmy Vesey into the top nine. That meant little ice time for Julien Gauthier and Jake Leschyshyn. Perhaps that was some foreshadowing.

Still trailing by two late in the second period, it finally clicked for Tarasenko. On a superb play started by a driving Panarin, who fed Trocheck in the slot, the center made a nice pass across for a Tarasenko finish into an open side with 3:07 left. That cut the deficit in half and changed the game.

With Halak continuing to deny the Flames on some tough chances, it felt like the Rangers would find a way to tie the game. Even after Miller was called for a phantom hook on Calgary rookie Jakob Pelletier at the end of the second that had Gallant discussing it with the refs before the start of the third, the penalty kill got it done. They usually do when the game is hanging in the balance.

Throughout this stretch, the Blueshirts have shown the capability to come back and win. They did it at Edmonton on Friday night. They won a crazy game versus these same Flames at MSG, in which Alexis Lafreniere played the overtime hero. That would actually be relevant.

On what was an equally perplexing call that sent Kadri to the box for interference on Mika Zibanejad with over nine minutes remaining that allowed the Rangers to go on the power play. They weren’t exactly lighting the world on fire. They barely tested Markstrom up to that point.

With Gallant opting to move Tarasenko back up to the top power play unit, he slid Filip Chytil down to the second unit. Although he’s been snake bit lately with goalies stoning him on point blank chances, including one key save Markstrom made, he managed to get involved in the tying power play goal.

Chytil passed the puck over for Trocheck, who circled around the Calgary net. He then centered for a Lafreniere one-timer that snuck past Markstrom and trickled in for the clutch power play goal that tied it up with 7:12 remaining.

That gave Lafreniere his 10th goal, making it two consecutive games with a goal. The surging 21-year old former top pick has 10 points in his last 11 games. The best part is that he’s finding the back of the net. Lafreniere has half his goals over the stretch. He also got the shootout winner over the Oilers. Lafreniere is up to 28 points (10-18-28) for the season.

With Halak stopping nine Calgary shots in the period compared to just three of four for Markstrom, the game would require overtime. Prior to it, an incensed Kadri gave the officials a piece of his mind. An emotional player, he received the rest of the night off with a misconduct.

I saw some of our fans angling for a power play. But the refs made the right call. It wasn’t an infraction during play. It happened after regulation concluded. Kadri obviously was still fuming over the penalty that led to Lafreniere’s tying goal.

In the three-on-three, it didn’t last long. On a play that didn’t make much sense, Panarin kept going after Tyler Toffoli in the corner. He also threw him down and probably deserved a penalty. Instead, Fox was called for high-sticking Dillon Dube at 50 seconds of overtime.

Following a timeout by Darryl Sutter, the Flames were able to get the four-on-three setup. On a Rasmus Andersson pass up top for Jonathan Huberdeau, who had one of his better games, he let go of a long wrist shot that Mikael Backlund was able to tip-in for the game-winner at 1:28. That gave the Flames a 3-2 win in overtime.

It was a frustrating way to have the winning streak end. However, thanks to Halak, the Rangers got a point. He was the best player. He has turned his year around and deserves a lot of credit. The veteran battles. That’s why he’s so well respected.

The one point kept the Rangers within two of the second place Devils, who won earlier on Saturday over the slumping Pens. They’re up to 75 points with 26 games remaining. Next up is Winnipeg on Monday. The Jets are taking on the Devils tonight. That’s a game to keep an eye on.

A day later, the Rangers decided they’d seen enough of the little used fourth line. Chris Drury made a move by sending Julien Gauthier and a conditional seventh round pick over to Ottawa in exchange for Tyler Motte. So, Motte returns.

The seventh round pick becomes a sixth if the Rangers win a first round this postseason. It’s pretty simple.

The trade makes sense. He’s familiar with how Gallant likes to play. Motte has the skating and edge necessary to upgrade the fourth line. We know he will finish checks and block shots and can kill penalties. It’s a sensible deal. He was an effective player after being acquired last year.

As far as the fourth line goes, you now have Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Motte. Only Jake Leschyshyn doesn’t fit. I expect him to be replaced sooner or later. Whether Drury can add one more affordable role player or they decide that Will Cuylle or Jonny Brodzinski are the way to go, the Rangers will have better balance moving forward.

Heck. Even Ryan Carpenter would be an upgrade over Leschyshyn. He’s scoring in Hartford. Realistically speaking, I feel like they might go with Cuylle. He can stay down with the Wolf Pack for now and continue to get top line minutes. He plays a gritty, physical game that would fit in on the fourth line. Goodrow can slide over to center.

I guess Sam Lafferty is out of the question. I would’ve preferred him due to what he brings. We’ll see what the organization decides. There’s still less than two weeks until the trade deadline on March 3rd.

There’s nothing to complain about. The Rangers have been one of the hottest teams in the league. We’ll see where things go.

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Devils complete another successful trip after up-and-down play

After the first three games of this four game trip, I couldn’t help but think that we’re finally having our first bad road trip of the season. It wasn’t even that the results were bad points-wise, although clearly the team wasn’t at its best, sandwiching a shootout loss in Minnesota and another dreadful performance against the Blues with barely beating the lowly Blue Jackets in the final seconds of regulation. Sure, it was three points out of six, but those three games were continuing a trend of the Devils’ overall level of play going downhill over the last few weeks. I was starting to compare it to our 2009-10 season where we set the world on fire in the first half, only to peter out with a sloggish .500 second half, followed by an early playoff exit at the hands of the Flyers.

Fortunately a couple of things changed today in Pittsburgh…for one, the Devils were playing a team that they’ve had a lot of inexplicable success against over the last decade even when they weren’t beating many other teams. For another, Jack Hughes returned to the lineup after missing the previous four games with an undisclosed body injury. True, Hughes wasn’t at his best early on (and neither was the team in the first twenty minutes), but he did ultimately contribute a couple of assists in what turned out to be a fairly drama-free – for once – 5-2 win.

Still double-digit points up on a playoff spot, the focus is more on big picture if you’re a Devils fan at the moment, especially given the impending trade deadline and all the focus about a certain potential acquisition. All the Timo Meier speculation is already getting old, but make no mistake – the fact that both a trade would likely have to come with an extension, coupled with the fact we need a guy like him in our top six badly and compounded with the speculation that the Hurricanes are also in on the bidding make it fingernail-biting time. At least this is one trade deadline where we can actually focus on acquisitions rather than subtractions (or more often the last few years, not even being able to sell anyone because their value is so depreciated).

Maybe it’s a good thing there isn’t much drama as far as getting into the playoffs at the moment, because the top of the Metro is a clear meat grinder at the moment:

  1. Hurricanes 80 points (9-1 in their last ten)
  2. Devils 77 points (7-2-1 in their last ten)
  3. Rangers 74 points (8-1-1 with a seven game winning streak)

On paper that would also give an advantage to the division winner, facing one of the sixty-point wild card contenders as opposed to a brutal division matchup in round one. Of course, with the playoffs point totals and pedigrees don’t always matter in the end anyway. As much as I’d rather avoid the Armageddon of Devils-Rangers in the first round, I’ve seem more than enough Devil postseasons where a high seed = early exit to care about where we finish in the standings in a vacuum.

What does matter is twofold…health and getting the best level of play out of everyone possible. In regards to the latter, Nico Hischier’s four-point afternoon in Pittsburgh was big for him personally and the team in general after the captain had slumped to one point in the previous seven games (more than half of them since Hughes was out of the lineup). Included in the four points was two goals, including the 100th of Nico’s still-young career – in classic fashion as well, with Nico and Yegor Sharangovich combining for a sweet short-handed marker that helped break open the game.

If Hischier’s breakout game was a big reason for the Devils’ dominance in Pittsburgh, so too were the lineup changes by Lindy Ruff – scratching Nathan Bastian and the slumping Jonas Siegenthaler, and reducing the icetime of the fourth-liners who did play. I’ve been beating the drum that a big reason for the team’s struggles at home relative to its road dominance is that the coach doesn’t feel as compelled to line match on the road as he does at home. Granted, you don’t want to have a steady diet of only playing the fourth line five minutes when we’re in the middle of a stretch of four games in six nights and have another game at home tomorrow but maybe the team’s second hideous loss to a substandard Blues team forced the issue in terms of accountability.

Of course, ultimately the team’s stars – and it’s goaltending – will need to continue to lead the way and both have been doing so all season. Nico’s two goals (and four points), Jack’s two assists, Dougie Hamilton with a power play goal and Jesper Bratt’s goal was a game where all the studs played in first gear, as well as Dawson Mercer, whose quick answer to an early Evgeni Malkin goal was key in the first period. In net, Vitek Vanecek is continuing his breakout season – going 2-0-1 in his three starts on the trip. His shootout loss in Minnesota was the only time he’s tasted anything but victory in his last thirteen starts, dating back to late December.

While the stars and Vitek have been more than enough to maintain the Devils’ position in the standings till this point, eventually the team will have to get more production from its role players. In that vein, Mercer and Sharangovich having two-point games this afternoon helped. So, too did Tomas Tatar’s pair of goals in Minnesota (the only ones the team scored in regulation), not to mention the dramatic game-winner from Ryan Graves in Columbus with the clock ticking down in regulation.

All in all, you have to describe this as yet another successful trip – five points out of eight without the Devils’ potential Hart trophy finalist for the first three games of it. With the team also on a five-game home winning streak, we’re getting close to having all cylinders clicking again. Hopefully they can keep the good times rolling at the Rock with four games in the span of a week beginning tomorrow night against the Jets.

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Resilient Rangers show character in three-goal comeback to best the Oilers in a shootout, Shesterkin responds to bad first period, Mika Magic and Lafreniere step up, Kreider on a heater

It would’ve been easy to say it’s not their night. But that’s not in the dictionary. The Rangers picked themselves up off the mat from a standing eight count and dug deep to rally back from a pair of three-goal deficits to best the Oilers 5-4 in a shootout at Rogers Place.

By showing the same resilience they had last year, the Blueshirts rallied to win their seventh straight game. In doing so, they pulled within a point of the idle Devils for second place in the Metro Division. With 27 games remaining, they’re 32-14-8 with 74 points. Although they didn’t gain in regulation wins, which is the first tiebreaker, they remained deadlocked at 26 with the Devils, who have 28 games left.

Both rivals are back in action on Saturday. The Devils visit the Penguins with the odd 5:30 start time. The Rangers will complete their three-game Western Canadian swing by facing the Flames at 10 PM. If it’s anything like the rock ’em sock ’em game they had at MSG, it should be well worth watching. Especially on a weekend.

The offense continues to produce. They scored at least four goals for the seventh consecutive game. That’s the first time the Rangers have done that since 1990-91 that ran from Feb. 6 through Feb. 21. It’s pretty ironic that this current stretch has come during a similar time period.

In what amounted to a putrid start following a disjointed performance in a 6-4 win over the Canucks, the Rangers fell behind early against the league’s top offense. Edmonton quickly got the game’s first three goals over a 4:38 span.

A Vincent Trocheck undisciplined minor penalty in the offensive zone when he knocked Jack Campbell’s stick out sent the Oilers to the power play. Connor McDavid was able to find Zach Hyman in front, where he came close to stuffing the puck in. However, it rebounded off Igor Shesterkin right to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who buried it for his 27th at 7:52.

Before five minutes had elapsed, it was the Edmonton fourth line that created the second goal. In on the forecheck against the Rangers fourth line and third defensive pair, Mattias Janmark passed for a Warren Foegle shot that came directly to Tyson Barrie in the slot for the finish at 12:11. It exemplified a sharp contrast between two fourth lines. The Rangers need to upgrade theirs before the 3 PM deadline on March 3.

On the next shift, it was some more hard work from secondary players that made it 3-0 just 19 seconds later. On more sustained pressure down low, Jesse Puljujarvi and Zach Hyman combined to feed Derek Ryan, who picked high glove on the suddenly vulnerable Shesterkin. He’s been giving it up more. That’s definitely an area that must get fixed.

Trailing by three, the Rangers got a reprieve thanks to Darnell Nurse going off for slashing Vladimir Tarasenko. On the power play, Chris Kreider ended a three month drought by getting his first power play goal since Nov. 13. On a great passing play, Artemi Panarin passed over for Mika Zibanejad, who one touched a centering feed down low for a Kreider put away for his 23rd at 13:36.

The goal extended his point streak to seven in a row. He wasn’t done either. It’s safe to say Kreider is back in form. He’s finishing with regularity and primed to hit 30 goals for the second straight season. Though he won’t come close to the career high 52 or 26 PPG, the power forward is delivering for this team.

On what was obviously an accidental clear out of play by K’Andre Miller for a delay of game minor, the Oilers took full advantage by cashing in for their second power play goal of the period. This time, it was the familiar combination of McDavid to Leon Draisaitl, whose quick shot beat Shesterkin far side for his 32nd at 18:27 to restore a three-goal lead late in the period.

It was particularly frustrating. Shesterkin was a bit too passive on the play. An Edmonton staple. McDavid loves to find Draisaitl either on the right side or in the circle for the one-timer. Shesterkin didn’t come out to challenge the shooter, making it an easier finish for Draisaitl, who is a world-class player.

With a pair of assists, McDavid went over the century mark in points. In 56 games, he leads the league in scoring with an NHL best 42 goals and 101 points. The Oilers have 26 games left. How many points can he get to? I believe he will approach 140. He’s at the height of his career.

Trailing 4-1, the Rangers began to chip away in a more inspired second period. That included Shesterkin, who delivered the biggest save of the game when he stoned McDavid in front when he was all set up. After allowing four goals on 12 shots in the first period, he responded by stopping the remaining 17 shots, including nine in the second.

While Shesterkin steadied in net after Gerard Gallant made the right decision to stick with him due to Jaroslav Halak getting tonight’s game in Calgary, the Rangers were having trouble beating Jack Campbell. He made several big saves, including a tough stop to deny Trocheck. The best would come later in the period.

Ironically enough, it was a penalty that actually turned things around. Alexis Lafreniere went off for holding Hyman. With a chance to really bury them, the Oilers’ dangerous power play got too passive. They relaxed just enough for the Rangers to strike for a critical goal shorthanded.

On some strong defensive work by both Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox, they got the puck up for Kreider. He moved quickly in transition to create a two-on-one. Instead of shooting, he went for the pass across for a cutting Zibanejad. But the puck came right back to him on a favorable bounce where he was able to beat Campbell with a backhand for the shorthanded goal that made it 4-2 at 6:26.

Shortly after, Shesterkin made another gigantic save to deny McDavid on a slap shot. Following that key stop, the momentum swung. A few more saves kept the Rangers within two.

With Kailer Yamamoto off for interfering with Barclay Goodrow, Campbell robbed Chytil and then got over to glove a Zibanejad shot from his office. Despite his team backing off, Campbell played very well. He finished with 34 saves on 38 shots to take the hard luck loss.

On another effective shift by the Oilers’ secondary forwards, Ryan McLeod had a shot ring off the crossbar. That close to a three-goal lead again. On the opposite end, during the same shift, Lafreniere had a shot stopped by Campbell.

As the second period moved on, it was the more aggressive Rangers who applied the pressure. They came close a few different times to pulling within one. Jimmy Vesey missed wide. Then Lindgren was stopped by Campbell, who was sharp throughout.

His best saves came when he first dove across to stone Chytil of a sure goal. On the play, he looked to have Campbell at his mercy. But the Edmonton goalie got his glove up to force Chytil to wait. By the time he fired, the sprawling Campbell made the acrobatic save to cheers from the crowd.

With under a minute left, Trocheck made a great pass across to Vesey for what looked like another sure goal. However, Campbell had other ideas by diving across to rob Vesey with a remarkable pad save. He could only shake his head in disbelief.

The good news is they got the only goal of the period and outplayed the Oilers. The bad news was the brilliant play of Campbell, who seems to have taken the net back from Stuart Skinner.

Undeterred, the Rangers kept coming in the third period. On what amounted to a great play off an offensive draw taken by Chytil, Kaapo Kakko drove to the net and made a smart back pass for an open Lafreniere in the slot. His wrist shot beat Campbell stick side to cut the deficit to one only 1:36 into the period.

That gave Lafreniere nine points (4-5-9) in the last 10 since Jan. 19. He’s been a different player since rejoining Kakko and Chytil. The primary assist made it 11 points (2-9-11) for Kakko since Jan. 16. He’s up to a career high 18 assists and 29 points.

With the exception of another close call for the Oilers’ fourth line in which Shesterkin was able to deny a Foegle tip-in, it was all Blueshirts. For some perplexing reason, Edmonton was content to sit back. They backed off. Even with the caliber of star talent that features McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Evander Kane, they didn’t attack.

Instead, it was the more urgent Rangers who pressed the action. Although they didn’t test Campbell as much at even strength in the period, they were aided by consecutive penalties to Janmark (hooking) and Ryan (delay of game). Two of the Oilers’ most effective players were in the box to hand the Blueshirts a five-on-three.

Gallant sent out his top unit that now includes Chytil. However, it was the more familiar faces who got it done. On what was a simple play, all Panarin did was move the puck over to Zibanejad at one point. He then passed down low for Fox, who moved the puck back up for a Zibanejad wrist shot that beat Campbell for the game-tying power play goal with 6:50 remaining.

It was his 30th of the season. It’s the third time in his career that Zibanejad has reached the 30-goal mark. He also did it in ’18-19 and ’19-20 when he scored a career high 41 in only 57 games.

Mika Magic. That makes it six games in a row that he’s scored a goal. Over the six-game torrid stretch, Zibanejad has eight goals with three helpers. Since Dec. 29, he’s up to 15 goals over the last 19 games. He’s again proving why he should be considered elite.

Following that clutch tally, Zibanejad missed twice on the following shift. Then, Chytil was again set up for what looked like a gimme. But his shot hit the far goalpost and stayed out. Otherwise, the Rangers convert on both sides of the power play. They were that close to going ahead on the five-on-four.

With the Oilers hanging on for dear life, they fortunately got two more big saves from Campbell. He made another stop on Vesey and then denied a Panarin bid off a rush. If not for him, Edmonton blows the game in regulation. It would’ve been a role reversal of the Rangers’ third period debacle in a regrettable 4-3 loss at home.

Instead, the rematch would require overtime. It nearly ended early. After Miller was stopped by Campbell, Chytil again had another shot denied. On the flip side, Shesterkin had to contend with both Draisaitl and McDavid, denying both.

Campbell made another great save when he got just enough of a Trocheck shot to keep it out. After Shesterkin stopped Nurse, an irate Zibanejad was called for taking down McDavid. His issue was Draisaitl had tripped him up right before they made the call.

On a four-on-three with 61 seconds left in overtime, the Oilers didn’t get the chances they wanted. Shesterkin came up with two more saves, including one on a McDavid shot that Jacob Trouba deflected. He also made one more stop on Barrie, who for some reason fares well versus the Rangers in his career. A Goodrow clear killed the clock to send it to a shootout.

It was unpredictable. After Nugent-Hopkins scored by beating Shesterkin short side, Kakko beat Campbell backhand top shelf to level it.

Then came something you don’t see. McDavid came in one on one with Shesterkin, who patiently out-waited him to make the save. Panarin then came out. Previously, he was 4-for-4 this season. He skated in and tried to go to the glove but missed the net.

It became even stranger when both Draisaitl and Zibanejad each missed. After Shesterkin stopped Barrie on a backhand, Tarasenko had his attempt foiled by Campbell. The Oilers then went with Ryan. But he too came up short. Out came Chytil for the win. However, Campbell again owned him.

Following an Igor stop on Yamamoto, it was Lafreniere’s turn. Instead of doing something we’d already seen, he faked and sent a backhand past Campbell to give the Rangers the win. That ended the night.


3rd 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers scored tying PPG (30) plus 🍎, 3 SOG, 9-7 on draws, +1 in 22:13

2nd 🌟 🤩 Alexis Lafreniere, Rangers goal (9th) and shootout winner, 2 SOG, Even in 14:58

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Chris Kreider, Rangers 2 goals including PPG and shorthanded goal (23, 24) giving him 253 for career, 3 SOG, +1 in 21:07

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