On a night when the annual Steven McDonald Extra Effort award was presented, the New York Rangers seemed to think going the extra mile was optional. Their inconsistent play ultimately resulted in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Blueshirts lacked consistency in their skating and efficiency in their passing. They made one careless turnover after another, placing the burden on goaltender Igor Shesterkin, whose brilliant 37-save performance shows he’s ready for the playoffs.
However, all it amounted to was an overtime loser point, as standout rookie netminder Devon Levi stopped Kaapo Kakko in the fifth round of the skills competition to keep Buffalo’s slim playoff hopes alive.
With three games remaining, the Sabres, who haven’t qualified for the tournament since 2011, trail the New York Islanders, who fell at the hapless Washington Capitals 5-2 on Monday by four points, and the Pittsburg Penguins by three points for the Eastern Conference’s final Wild Card spot.
Meanwhile, the Rangers have their final playoff tune-up on Thursday at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs before things begin for real on April 17.
It’s understandable for the Blueshirts to lack their killer instinct when they’ve already secured a spot in the dance.
While there’s still the advantage of potentially opening up at home, the Rangers don’t care about that.
“You want to try and win and get home ice and open up in front of the fans,” Adam Fox said. “But I think once you’re there, you’ve just got to win games anyway. You’ve got to win road games, too, so I don’t think we’re too concerned with that.”
That’s true, but if the Presidents Trophy-clinching Boston Bruins are still finding ways to motivate themselves, such as setting the NHL wins record with their 63rd on Sunday, it shouldn’t be challenging to find something.
Then again, maybe Filip Chytil’s take on home ice is correct; “If we want to win the Stanley Cup, we must beat anybody anywhere.”
A sluggish first period saw the Rangers get outshot 14-4 and trail 1-0 on the scoreboard, courtesy of a goal from JJ Peterka at the 14:24 mark.
On the play, the forward snuck down the right side and slid Jack Quinn’s backhand dish into the net, with the tally making the pair the second trio of Buffalo rookies, along with Owen Power, to record at least 30 points in a season since 1987-88. Late in the frame, the Rangers received a power play that would carry over into the second period.
After not doing much with it in the first, Gerard Gallant pleaded during the intermission for the team to show more intensity, and Artemi Panarin responded. The winger wired Mika Zibanejad’s one-time feed past Levi, giving both players 90 points for the season, as they became the first Rangers duo to reach that plateau since Mark Messier and Brian Leetch did it in the 1991-92 season.
Then, Panarin netted his 28th of the season, taking a pass from Vladimir Tarasenko, who received it from Vincent Trocheck, who was on his knees, and roofing the puck top-corner, putting the Blueshirts in front 2-1.
New York would continue to match Buffalo’s desperation, almost extending their lead, when Kakko redirected a Chytil shot toward Levi. Still, the 21-year-old had other plans, stopping that attempt and Nikko Mikola’s rebound from the hash marks as part of a special 26-save evening.
There seemed to be no denying Igor Shesterkin of his 100th career win. That would’ve been poetic for yours truly, who was also in the building for his first in his NHL debut on January 7, 2020, against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Rangers stopper weathered Buffalo’s barrage in the first before galvanizing the crowd with flashy glove saves in the second to preserve his team’s 2-1 lead. However, a brutal turnover by K’Andre Miller in the slot directly led to an Alex Tuch chance, with the rebound quickly finding the blade of Casey Mittelstadt, who squared the score with 11:47 remaining in the third period.
Still, Shesterkin remained cool and masked another Miller turnover when he stonewalled Kyle Okposo with 3:07 left in regulation. The save would allow the Rangers to have a final look, but Levi stopped Adam Fox and Mika Zibanejad in the waning seconds to force overtime.
Much like their previous two meetings, New York’s defense was overwhelmed by Buffalo’s speed in the 3 on3 extra session, leaving their goalie out to dry. With 3:42 left, the Rangers were penalized for having too many men on the ice, making a Sabres overtime win seem inevitable. However, Shesterkin, with a series of heroic saves, sent the game to a shootout.
Shesterkin finished gameplay with 37 saves on 39 shots and a +1.8 Goals Saved Above Expected.
Both goaltenders traded goose eggs in the skills competition through the first three rounds, requiring extra ones. Calder candidate Owen Power would score to put the Sabres on top. Still, Vladimir Tarasenko responded to keep the Rangers alive. Finally, in round five, a goal by Mittelstadt and a Levi stop on Kaapo Kakko gave Buffalo the victory.
THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR:
Before the game, the Mcdonald family
presented the annual Extra Effort Award dedicated to former New York City Police Detective Steven McDonald, who was shot and injured in the line of duty on July 12, 1986, and passed away on January 10, 2017.
“It is my honor to present this award to the player who has become the heart and soul of this building,” Said Steven’s son and NYPD Lieutenant Conor McDonald, who announced the 2022-23 winner, which is voted on by fans, as Ryan Lindgren. Lindgren became the third defenseman to win the award, joining his partner Adam Fox (2019-20) and Brian Leetch (1996-97). This year, the 25-year-old has recorded career highs in assists (17) and points (18).
“I had no idea it was coming, but when you hear your name and to get an award like that the fans voted on appreciation, it means a lot,” Lindgren said.
Blueshirts Nation got this one right. While the defenseman’s impact may not show on the scoresheet, his value to the team is immeasurable.
In proper form, he spent the final minutes of overtime in the locker room after blocking a Jeff Skinner slap shot with his face before returning to the bench for the shootout. “I was grazed, but I’m fine,” Lindgren said with a gushing cheek.
It was a great play from New York’s ultimate warrior, who will need more than Lindgren, Shesterkin, and Panarin to go the extra mile.
As the fan who sat directly behind me in section 113 said, “The playoffs are next week, boys; wake up.”