The New York Rangers lost a game on a goal scored in the last minute of regulation for the first time this season. It means the Blueshirts have lost three in a row in regulation for the first time this season. They lost a game to a team that had lost eight in a row and is about to finish with the worst record in the NHL. They lost to a team that has won only 14 games in regulation this season. Is there a reason to be worried? Absolutely not.
The Rangers rested seven regulars in an effort to keep or get everyone healthy. Artemi Panarin, Andrew Copp, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider were replaced by Julien Gauthier, Greg McKegg, Jonny Brodzinski and Kaapo Kakko. On defense, Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren were replaced by Zac Jones, Libor Hajek and Justin Braun. Alexandar Georgiev replaced Igor Shesterkin.
That the Rangers were in a tie game until the final minute of play has to be considered a good thing despite the competition.
As Gerard Gallant said, they just fell short. “We just kept finding a way to give them the extra goal and that’s what happened at the end. Nobody got hurt, that was the key thing tonight, we played pretty well overall, we got through the game.”
It’s no coincidence that the three Rangers goals were scored by Ryan Reaves, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Strome all regulars in the starting lineup. The newbies played well, but they showed a lot of rust, especially on the power play.
One disappointment was the Chytil-Lafreniere-Kakko line that didn’t generate much. They haven’t play much together despite what you might believe and they have one more game left to build some chemistry.
The game wasn’t exactly a barnburner. The seven goals scored gave the fans something to talk about and the Blueshirts almost pulled off another comeback.
Here’s a full video recap of the game.
Now the key question is how the Rangers will approach Friday’s game with the Capitals. The simple fact is that the Capitals will go into that game knowing that they need to win to avoid a first round rendezvous with the Florida Panthers. The Rangers can either rest their regulars again, or play a hard game against a team that they may be facing in the playoffs four days later.
Gallant was asked if they will be resting different guys on Friday. He was noncommittal. “I don’t think so. We’ll see what comes up. We’ll talk about it tomorrow and see where our lineup is at. We haven’t decided 100 percent.”
Kevin Rooney did say that if they know they are going to be playing the Capitals in the first round, Friday’s game will be different. “If we know we’re going to play them, we’ll definitely be ready to go try to send a message. If it’s not and it’s Pittsburgh, then we’ll continue to play our game and feel good about ourselves.”
After the game, Henrik Lundqvist weighed in, saying “if you have a strong game, you’re going to bring that with you the next week.” Simply put, the Rangers will benefit if they win on Friday, no matter who they play.
As we have seen all season, it’s all about confidence and they are brimming with confidence about a meeting with Pittsburgh, but they won’t have a lot to reflect on when it comes to the Capitals, other than Friday’s game.
So, the decision facing Gerard Gallant is whether to rest the regulars and avoid injury and play the scrubs and probably lose. It would mean a four game losing streak to end the season and a game to forget. Or they can play the full squad including Shesterkin and hope to send “a message” to the Capitals that will be fresh in their memories when the playoffs start. Of course, the worst scenario is if they play the regulars and lose.
The Capitals play the Islanders Thursday night and a lot will depend on what happens in that game. If they win they will need one point against New York to clinch third place, no matter what the Penguins do. If they lose to the Isles, they will be desperate.