Rangers Thoughts Presented by Vintage Ice Hockey: Three Wins in Four Days

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The daunting three games in four days schedule sandwiched around Thanksgiving for the Rangers resulted in three wins. The Rangers won in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and then knocked off Boston in New York.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers.

1. After blowing a two-goal lead, allowing six unanswered goals and losing to Dallas 6-3 on Monday night, the Rangers bounced back with a 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. It was the Preseason Problems Game as Alexis Lafreniere’s goal 5:10 into the game stood up with Jonathan Quick making 32 saves for his second shutout in five starts as a Ranger. Those two were the ire of many Rangers fans for their late-September and early-October play, but their performance in actual, meaningful games that count have served as a reminder that the preseason is meaningless.

Quick made five power-play saves and one shorthanded save in the game, but no save was bigger than him getting a piece of Sidney Crosby’s wrister as the Penguins legend was left alone in the slot in the final minute of play. Evgeni Malkin found Crosby by himself and as a Rangers fan (and Rangers +100 money line bettor), my heart momentarily sank.

2. The Rangers had a rather quick turnaround from Wednesday night’s win to Friday’s early-afternoon game in Philadelphia. Earlier in the week, it was shocking to see the Flyers sitting in second place in the Met. Sure, they had played more games than teams right behind them, but still, it’s the Flyers, and they suck. Seeing them in second place through six weeks whether teams had games in hand on them or not is not something anyone should have expected at this point. It only took a day’s worth of the Rangers beating up on them and the rest of the division getting back into action for the Flyers to tumble to down the standings.

This one was over rather quickly. Mika Zibanejad scored just 45 seconds into the game, for his third of the season, first in November and first in 25 days.

One minute and eight seconds later, the Rangers scored again. Travis Sanheim threw the puck in front of his own net and it was as if he were wearing a Blueshirt as it was placed perfectly on Chris Kreider’s tape. Kreider banged it home to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. MSG quickly panned to the Flyers’ bench where John Tortorella looked like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world other than behind his team’s bench.

Just under eight minutes into the second, Zibanejad scored again. Here is what I wrote about Zibanejad on Wednesday:

One of these games, Zibanejad will go off, net a hat trick and get right back to being his usual self. With the season 20 percent over, it would be nice if that happened in the near future, and no better time than this week where the Rangers will play three games in four days and five games in eight days. This is the most opportune time for Zibanejad to start finding the back of the net.

He came one shy of a hat trick, but the two-goal game was a welcome sight. In 27:41 of play against the Flyers, Zibanejad doubled his season goal total, and with a three-goal lead against this Flyers team, the remainder of the game was a formality in an eventual 3-1 win.

A day later, the Rangers were back home for the first time in nearly two weeks to host the Bruins in a battle of the Eastern Conference’s best. It was a game that drew my attention when the schedule was released in the summer, and a game that saw its attention grow exponentially over the first fifth of the season.

3. With Igor Shesterkin having played in Philadelphia, Quick was given the start in the second game of the back-to-back, and it was another quick start for the Rangers’ offense as well.

Nick Bonino scored his first goal as a Ranger when he gathered the puck near the top of the circles, spun around and wristed it past Linus Ullmark to give the Rangers a 1-0 at 5:58 of the first. Five minutes later, the Rangers extended their lead to 2-0 with Kreider picking up a rebound on the power play. The Bruins responded to the early deficit by calling timeout. The Bruins looked like nothing like advertised through the first 12-plus minutes of the game as they didn’t record their first shot until there was just 7:21 left in the period. It’s quite possible (and extremely likely) they took advantage of landing in New York in the early evening on Friday and having a night out in the city. But whatever Jim Montgomery said to them during that timeout changed their play and demeanor. The Bruins tied the game with goals 22 seconds apart. Then it was Peter Laviolette’s turn to call a timeout.

“There was a rollercoaster of emotions in the way that the game was played, and that was one of them,” Laviolette said. “To me, just to stop the game to reset, it’s now back to even, back to work.”

I figured the Rangers may collapse the way they have so many times in recent seasons with two-goal leads in game. They had just blown a two-goal lead and lost four days earlier in Dallas and it wasn’t that long ago they blew a three-goal lead and lost in Minnesota. When Erik Gustafsson went off for hooking with 1:34 to go in the first, a two-goal lead becoming a one-goal deficit seemed inevitable.

But 15 seconds after Gustafsson went off, the Bruins turned the puck over at the top of the offensive zone, Kreider fled the zone and Jacob Trouba hit Kreider in stride for a breakaway. Kreider, the last person you ever want on a breakaway, finally converted one for a shorthanded goal and the Rangers had the lead back.

“It was a great read by Jacob, ” Kreider said. “Nice pass right on the tape.”

4. The lead didn’t last long. The Bruins began the second period on the same power play and when the Rangers failed to clear the puck near the blue line, the Bruins turned it into a 3-on-1 below the top of the circles. David Pastrnak hesitated, got Quick to open his five-hole and jammed it past him to tie the game.

The game remained tied for more than 16 minutes of play, until a delayed Bruins penalty turned into a 6-on-5 for the Rangers, which turned into Jimmy Vesey’s fourth goal of the season. About three minutes later Mika Zibanejad left a drop pas for K’Andre, who walked into it with all 6-foot-5 of his body and blasted a ridiculous slap shot past Ullmark. 5-3 Rangers.

“That was back and forth, a lot of emotions probably from both teams,” Laviolette said. “I thought the guys showed a lot of resiliency.”

5. It was the best and worst game of the season. Best in terms of putting up a 7-spot on the league’s second-best defense (the Rangers entered the game first in the league in terms of goals against average) and beating the Rangers’ direct competition for the East’s 1-seed by three goals. It was the worst because of the blown two-goal, two blown leads and uneasiness of the Rangers’ own defense from the midway point of the first period through the second period.

This time the Rangers wouldn’t blow the lead though. 5-3 became 6-3 on Tyler Pitlick’s first as a Ranger. A minute later, the Bruins cut it to 6-4, but two minutes after that, Artemi Panarin slammed the door, making it 7-4, which is how it would stay. (After three straight pointless games, Panarin had a goal and two assists against the Bruins.)

6. “Doing that against a Top 2, Top 3 team in the league is always nice,” Miller said. “It shows we have a pretty good team.”

Not just a “good team” but the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers lead the Met by nine points. They have lost in regulation once (Dallas) in more than five weeks. They have only twice (Dallas and Minnesota) in six weeks (and they held a multi-goal lead in both games). The Rangers started the season 2-2 and are 13-1-1 since.

7. “Our guys are going into a game expecting to win, expecting to play a certain way,” Laviolette said. “And if we do that, we can see the results. Today, I think was just a little but more challenging because of the schedule that we’ve been in.”

The schedule is something I wrote about on Wednesday:

The Rangers’ schedule has been rather odd to this point. After a pair of road games and a pair of home games to begin the season, they went on a 10-day, three-time zone road trip in which they went west (Seattle), east (Calgary), north (Edmonton), west again (Vancouver) and east again Winnipeg), They returned home for one game and then went back on the road and out of the time zone for one game in Minnesota. (Why not just play in Minnesota after Winnipeg?) Then they played three home games before having six days off. Now they are on a road trip that covers New Jersey (OK, not really a road trip), Dallas, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

When you’re winning, like the Rangers have been, it makes a frustrating and outrageous schedule less of an annoyance.

8. “I still don’t think we’ve played our best hockey yet,” Miller said, “which kind of scary and fun to say at the same time.”

I think Miller is somewhat right. The Rangers have played their best hockey, it just happened to come on opening night in Buffalo. That performance is likely to never be duplicated as it was the best and most complete effort from the Rangers in a decade. It’s scary that they are capable of that level play, and it’s even more scary that they haven’t come close to matching it and have a 15-3-1 record.

10. “We worked hard,” Laviolette said. “We worked smart to secure the two points.”

That’s all the Rangers seem to do: secure two points. Now the crazy schedule to date loosens up a bit as the Rangers remain home for two more games (Buffalo and Detroit), and then the schedule softens with back-to-back games next weekend at Nashville and home against San Jose. A lot of favorable opportunities over the next week to secure two points.

Vintage Ice Hockey is the only company that sells premium-quality jerseysapparel and team merchandise for defunct minor league hockey franchises. It’s a family-run, hockey fan-driven company that’s committed to celebrating and preserving the legacies of defunct minor league hockey franchises. Check out their collection spanning over 100 years of minor league hockey and use code KTTC for 15% off your order!