Personally, as a hockey fan, shootout wins are taken less seriously than ones in regulation or overtime, and the same can be said for losses. However, after squandering a 3-1 lead in a 4-3 overtime loss at their chief rival New Jersey Devils on Saturday, this was an extra point the Rangers had to have.
So when Igor Shesterkin stonewalled Fredrick Gaudreau for a 4-3 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, you couldn’t help but feel the sense of relief reverberating across Rangerstown, USA. All in all, it was a win that the Blueshirts made harder than needed, but they won’t apologize for it, nor should they have to. Here are my takeaways from Tuesday’s triumph:
LATE TO THE PARTY:
The Rangers came out hungry and peppered Marc-Andre Fleury’s net early and often, even hitting a couple of posts. Still, the charge was minimized as the Wild did the same to reigning Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin and found the back of the twine twice for a commanding 2-0 lead
The first one came from Jon Merrill, who beat the screened goaltender from the right dot at the 7:44 mark, before Kirill Kaprizov’s rifle off the rush from Sam Steel and former Ranger Ryan Reaves, five minutes later, doubled the visitors’ advantage. Sandwiched between the tallies was a booming hit by Reaves and Brandon Duhaime, which knocked Julien Gauthier out of the game with an upper-body injury.
The Wild had an opportunity shortly after that to make it 3-0 late in the first period. Still, Vincent Trocheck helped an out-of-place Shesterkin by covering for him in the crease with the netminder inadvertently being taken out of the play. It was clear that for New York to rally in the contest, they would need to improve their neutral zone play, and luckily in the second period, that’s what happened.
In response to their poor start, the Rangers played one of their best periods of the season to date.
At the 2:37 mark, Jimmy Vesey poke-checked the puck away from Matt Boldy near the blue line, and K’Andre Miller took advantage by using his speed, and a powerful snap shot to beat Fleury and get the Blueshirts on the scoreboard.
A few minutes after scoring a goal, Miller prevented one by breaking up a three-on-1 Wild rush, leading to a plethora of New York pressure that accumulated to 21 shots for the period. Still, they couldn’t get the equalizer past Fleury.
Decisively, at the 15:50 timestamp, the pass-happy Adam Fox scored off a two-on-one rush, surprising his teammates by taking the shot instead of feeding Trocheck. “I wanted to pass,” Fox said in his postgame pressure, but it was a good thing he didn’t, as he leveled the match entering the third period.
It seems as if Gerard Gallant has finally found his sweet spot regarding his lines.
The top unit of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Kaapo Kakko, and the second trio of Artemi Panarin, Trocheck, and Vitali Kravtsov was paramount to the abundance of the 43 scoring chances the Rangers had on the net in the contest.
Kakko, in particular, continued to show impressive strength on the puck and was a force to be reckoned with down low. Unfortunately for the youngster, Chris Kreider popped his shoulder when he was slammed into the boards in the third period and wouldn’t return to the game, enlisting the slumping Alexis Lafreniere as the team’s top left winger.
Still, this is something you love to see because if New York is going to go far, players like Kakko and Kravtsov need to be impactful, and they’ve done that throughout this 12-2-2 stretch for the Blueshirts.
The same can’t be said for the power play, which looked stale and complacent in their 0 for three performance, including their overtime failure.
I suggested a while ago that maybe giving Filip Chytil a shot on the first power play line could provide the man advantage and a spark, and I think he’s earned it. Chytil logged 16:43 of ice time Tuesday, mainly on the third line between Lafreniere and Jimmy Vesey. The 24-year-old helped force overtime with the game-tying tally after former Ranger Matts Zuccarello gave Minnesota the 3-2 lead at the 4:33 mark of the last stanza when his shot couldn’t be corralled by Shesterkin and bounced in.
However, with 6:25 remaining in regulation, Fox drove the net and made a move on Fleury from behind the cage before flipping the puck to the slot, which was banked home by Chytil, who put the disc home off of Matt Dumba’s skate to send MSG into a frenzy and effectively force extra time.
It was the Blueshirts’ third even-strength goal of the game, and it fittingly came off the stick of the team leader in five on five on five goals per 60:00, with Chytil at 1.17 among players who are at 300 minutes for the season.
The pending free-agent center does a tremendous job of doing the dirty work on the third line and should be allowed to prove himself with more time on the man advantage.
SECURING THE EXTRA POINT:
After they couldn’t capitalize on the overtime man advantage courtesy of a Minnesota too many men on the ice infraction, the Rangers were forced to find a way in the skills competition. The shootout opened up with Kakko, whose attempt was juggled backward by Fleury and went into the net. The momentum was short-lived, as Zuccarello scored to tie it, and Zibanejad was stopped by Fleury, giving Kaprizov a chance to put the Wild on top.
Yet in a contest described by Panarin as one that reminded him of “Russian hockey,”; Shesterkin won the battle of the countrymen, making the stop to keep the shootout tied. The save paved the way for Igor’s Russian teammate in the breadman to pull through, which he did by roofing the biscuit top-cheddar before Shesterkin stopped Gaudreau to seal the victory.
MARV’S 3 STARS:
3 Filip Chytil
Chytil won 75% of his faceoffs and had six shots on goal, including the game-tying tally to force overtime.
2 K’Andre Miller
Miller had a goal, and an assist, and was a +2 in 25:03. He was instrumental in the tying goal, socking one home and saving a Wild scoring chance.
1 Adam Fox:
The defenseman logged 28:11 of ice time, which was a+One, and the team outshot Minnesota 19-9 when he was on the ice.