The magic number for officially clinching a playoff spot is down to 16 points. For all the talk regarding the New York Rangers inevitably securing their berth in the postseason, they haven’t looked ready to delve into the impending gauntlet since the trade deadline with their inconsistent play.
Though on Thursday night, the team took another step in the right direction towards finding their groove, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts received the type of clutch performance from the bottom six that’ll be required in a playoff series, with the top two lines from each team likely canceling each other out, and led by Tyler Motte, wore Pittsburg down, which led to neutral zone victories and sustained offensive zone pressure.
Defensively, New York also stayed penalty free and received sharp goaltending from Igor Shesterkin to avenge Sunday’s 3-2 overtime defeat in Pittsburg, where they ironically allowed two power-play goals, including Kris Letang’s game-winner.
A NEW FIRST:
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is what head coach Gerard Gallant is probably telling himself regarding the Rangers’ top line.
Akin to the start of Tuesday’s 5-3 win against the Washington Capitals, the trio of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Vladimir Tarasenko got things started quickly this time, but 78 seconds earlier, as 2:51 into the game, Tarasenko forced the puck away from Sidney Crosby, and Panarin used the boards to hit Zibanejad in stride who’s snipe over Tristan Jarry gave the Blueshirts an early 1-0 lead. It highlighted the night the unit combined for a team-leading ten shots on goal in 13:28 of ice time together. Tarasenko also threw his body around, recording three hits and two takeaways.
PROVIDING THE JUICE:
Tristan Jarry made 11 saves on 12 shots limiting the Blueshirts’ opening-period barrage, and it would pay off in the second, as the Penguins’ would tie it when Crosby intercepted K’Andre Miller’s attempt to wrap around the boards and found Rikard Rakell in the slot for the finish. Yet a mere 2:13 later, New York received a response from an unlikely offensive source in Tyler Motte, who stripped Pierre-Olivier Joseph of the puck and snuck it through Jarry’s five-hole for his first tally since the Rangers reacquired him from the Ottawa Senators last month, breathing new life into the Garden with their heroes ahead 2-1entering the final frame.
THE KREIDER TAKEOVER:
After Pittsburg squared the score with 10.51 left in regulation when Crosby found Jake Guentzel for his 30th goal of the season, the intensity of the tight-checking 200FT contest with elite goaltending at both ends intensified as the Metropolitan Division rivals scrapped for the go-ahead marker, which is where Chris Kreider came through.
A rising Adam Fox shot from the right point deflected downward by Vincent Trocheck hit Kreider’s skate, who quickly pounced on it and outmaneuvered Brian Dumoulin before sliding the disc past Jarry with 8:15 left to seize the coveted 3-2 advantage. Then as if that wasn’t enough, Kreider would later hit the empty net for his 30th goal of the season, and sixth in his last ten games, to seal the hard-fought victory.
MARV ‘S 3 STARS:
HONORABLE STAR: Vladimir Tarasenko(3 shots, one block, four hits, one takeaway, 16:44 of ice time across 22 shifts)
3 Tyler Motte(1 goal, four hits, one takeaway, 13:11 of ice time)
2 Igor Shesterkin(26 saves on 28 shots, +0.71 Goals Saved Above Expected)
1 Chris Kreider(2 Goals, four shots, two hits, one takeaway, 15:44 of ice time across 20 shifts)