‘Burn baby burn:' Red-hot Rangers jump to second in division


After a gut-wrenching loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 28, the New York Rangers sat at 3-7-1, last place in the Metropolitan Division. They finished off their road trip on the right foot with shootout wins in San Jose and Anaheim and followed the wins with a wire-to-wire 3-1 home victory against the Buffalo Sabres.

New York looked to ride that momentum into its next three games against the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Up first was a home matchup against Montreal on Nov. 6. The Canadiens have been one of the league’s biggest surprises with their strong season start. Led by the newly acquired Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, as well as a solid group of young talent, Montreal stormed out of the gate with an 8-4-2 record.

The goaltending matchup was the usual when these two Original Six teams met, with Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price between the pipes.

Just 23 seconds into the game, Montreal opened the scoring, when Tatar beat Lundqvist from the left circle on an odd-man rush. But the Rangers had a response less than four minutes later, thanks to Chris Kreider’s seventh goal of the season. Kevin Hayes set him up with a perfect pass across the crease, and Kreider beat Price from the right side before he could slide back over.

With the score tied 1-all after one period, Tatar put the Canadiens back ahead with his second goal of the game, as he tipped a pass from Phillip Danault through the legs of a sprawled Lundqvist at 4:40 into the frame. Montreal then made it 3-1 on a power play less than two minutes later. Domi was standing in front when he got a pass from Brendan Gallagher from the left side of the goal line and put in a backhand from the right side for his ninth of the season at 6:27. At that point, it looked like the Canadiens were well on their way to a win. But a penalty gave the Rangers a power play late in the period — the spark they desperately needed.

Just after that power play expired, defenseman Tony DeAngelo ripped a shot from the left point that found its way through traffic in front and behind Price. The shot made the score 3-2 with 2:15 left. It stayed that way for the remainder of the period.

At 8:25 of the final frame, New York tied the game, courtesy of Pavel Buchnevich. Hayes brought the puck down the right side and passed to Marc Staal on his left, who fired a shot that Price knocked down with his glove.

With the puck lying on the ice, Buchnevich skated toward the front of the net and put it in before Price could smother it.

With 2:44 left in regulation time, Neal Pionk made an incredible individual play that is arguably the highlight of the season so far. The young defenseman brought the puck from behind the Rangers net, spun around one Montreal player, skated up the left side, cut in toward the front of the Canadien net and put it past Price while falling to the ice.

This gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead, their first lead of the game. They would double their lead 56 seconds later, thanks to Mika Zibanejad. He brought the puck up the left side and tried to send a pass across in front. The puck deflected back to him off Jeff Petry's skate and Zibanejad put it past Price to seal the game. A strong 31-save effort from Lundqvist and a furious comeback led the Rangers to a 5-3 victory, their fourth in a row.

New York was back on the road, starting off in Detroit on Nov. 9 to take on the Red Wings, another Original Six rival. Detroit came into the game winning four of their past five games after starting an abysmal 1-7-2. With both teams streaking after some early struggles and another spectacular goaltending duel between Lundqvist and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard, this was set to be a very close, low-scoring game.

The goaltenders stole the show in the first period, as both netminders made outstanding saves to keep the opposition off the scoreboard. It was much of the same for most of the second period, but a double-minor high-sticking penalty by Detroit’s Jacob de la Rose with 3:32 left gave the Rangers a huge chance to jump in front.

Just under a minute and a half into the first power play, Kevin Shattenkirk opened the scoring with his first goal of the season. The power play unit moved the puck around well, giving Shattenkirk a prime shooting lane, with some help from Jimmy Vesey screening in front. New York scored on its second power play just 40 seconds later, when Pionk shot the puck from the blue line and got two fortunate bounces off Detroit players. The puck found its way underneath Howard’s pads, giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

Entering the third period, New York had momentum on its side. However, less than two minutes in, a terrible turnover by Brendan Smith gave Detroit some life.

Smith got stripped of the puck behind the net by Gustav Nyquist, who quickly found Justin Abdelkader on the left side. Abdelkader easily tapped the puck past Lundqvist and sliced the lead in half to 2-1.

The Rangers held their ground after that, tightening up the defense. A fifth straight win was in their sights, but Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou had other plans. Frans Nielsen skated through the neutral zone and found Athanasiou cutting up the left side. He used his blazing speed to drive to the net and bury the puck past Lundqvist to tie the game at 2 with just 2:02 remaining in regulation.

The game eventually went to overtime, but not before the Rangers had to kill off a penalty at the end of regulation. With 5.1 seconds left, it appeared the game was heading to a shootout, but Shattenkirk failed to clear the puck out of his defensive zone, which allowed Athanasiou to feed Dylan Larkin a shot that beat Lundqvist under the crossbar. The heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss ended New York’s winning streak. Lundqvist played tremendously, making 28 saves, but late game blunders and poor defense cost the Rangers again.

The Rangers were back in action the very next night in Columbus to take on their division foe, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus sat atop the Metropolitan Division, but the Rangers had an opportunity to really gain some ground.

New York opened the scoring 5:54 into the first period, when Zibanejad took a feed from Buchnevich off an odd-man rush and tapped it past Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.

But the Jackets had a response in the final minute of the frame, on a power play goal by Cam Atkinson with 34 seconds remaining. Atkinson took a pass from Pierre-Luc Dubois in front of the net and beat Rangers netminder Alexandar Georgiev with an easy tap-in.

That set up a wild second period, during which goals were aplenty. Buchnevich got it started 6:57 in, when he took a pass from Vesey on a 2-on-1 and fired a one-timer past Korpisalo to give New York a 2-1 lead.

Kreider followed up 93 seconds later, when he tapped in a cross-ice pass from Hayes in front to extend the lead to 3-1. But that lead was short-lived, as Columbus scored three consecutive goals in the next eight minutes. Dubois deflected a Seth Jones shot from the right point at 11:49 to cut the lead to 3-2. Nick Foligno followed up 32 seconds later, finishing off a 2-on-1 breakaway with a nice backhander past Georgiev to tie the game at 3. Alexander Wennberg gave Columbus their first lead, after he took a pass from Jones, who intercepted a pass attempt from Pionk, and rushed down the ice, beating Georgiev with a wristshot shorthanded. But with 53 seconds left in the frame, Vesey tied the game back up at 4, after Hayes found him for an easy shot in front from behind the net.

Neither team cashed in during the third period nor in overtime, as both Georgiev and Korpisalo made timely saves.

The game went to a shootout, where Vesey had a chance to win in the fifth round after both teams scored twice. Vesey fired a short-side shot that deflected off Korpisalo’s arm and into the net, sealing a huge 5-4 victory for the Rangers, their fifth in the past six games.

New York is back in the thick of the division race, at 8-7-2 with 18 points. Much of that has been due to improved play in close games. Discipline and special teams are still lingering issues that need to be fixed.

SportsFelix MalamudComment