The New York Rangers faced a gritty, playoff-style match that mirrors the tough road ahead. Despite the challenge, they emerged victorious on this ceremonial Saturday at TD Garden in Boston. Trent Frederic, seeking retribution for a November 25 stick incident, threw down with Blueshirts captain Jacob Trouba. Trouba's thoughts? "If I had someone hit me in the head with a stick, I'd probably want to fight them, too. I've got no issue with it. It is what it is. Answer the bell & move on." And answer the bell they did.
Vincent Trocheck's OT deflection off Artemi Panarin's feed secured a 2-1 win, improving New York's record over Boston (19-5-6) to 2-0 this season. The triumph also catapulted the Rangers into first place in the NHL with a .741 point percentage, boasting an impressive 21-7-1 record.
A Defensive masterclass:
The Rangers and the Bruins brought different defensive strategies to the table – Boston opted for a 1-4 setup in the neutral zone, while the Rangers embraced Peter Laviolette's 1-3-1 approach. The Blueshirts have removed the defensive carelessness that haunted them in recent weeks.
New York's defense stepped up, shutting down David Pastrnak's breakaway attempt with a solid Jonny Brodzinski backcheck and an Adam Fox block. Trouba made a crucial block on a 2-on-1, and Erik Gustafson and Nick Bonino teamed up to thwart a dangerous play around the net. These defensive efforts made life easier for goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
The Rangers' commitment to tightening their defense showed in their performance against the Bruins. They limited Boston to 22 shots on goal. They successfully killed all four penalties.
Despite the even play, the Bruins took a 1-0 lead with 17:53 left in the second period, breaking the scoreless streak. Trent Frederic charged the net aggressively during a three-on-two rush, deflecting James van Riemsdyk's initial pass with his leg.
Igor Shesterkin made the save, but Frederic capitalized on the rebound. Laviolette was challenged for goalie interference, but an official review deemed the goal good. There's a bit of debate as Frederic's stick made minor contact with Shesterkin's right pad, but the impact is subjective depending on the angle. NHL rules allow "incidental contact with the goalkeeper" in a "rebound situation. It would be the only puck that got by Shesterkin.
Igor Shestekrin wins goaltending duel:
Goalies Igor Shesterkin and Jeremy Swayman were sharp right from the start. Shesterkin's solid performance addressed concerns after three consecutive losses, where he faced 93 shots, allowing 15 goals for an unsightly .839 save percentage. However, in this game, he silenced the doubters, making 21 saves on 22 shots with an impressive 1.3 goals saved above expected.
Laviolette praised Shesterkin's standout performance: "I thought he was really good. Defensively, I thought our guys were sharp. But you always need saves from your goaltender, and I thought he was on point tonight." On the other end, Swayman held his own, making 31 saves with a +1.5 goals saved above expected. It was the playoff-atmosphere contest that Shesterkin needed, and both goalies lived up to the challenge.
Thinking outside the Box:
Before the game, the Bruins celebrated their centennial season, embracing their physical brand by playing a tight-spaced game. The pregame festivities included honoring Mike Milbury, the beloved defenseman infamous for going after a man with his own shoe at Madison Square Garden in 1979 against the Rangers. "I just grabbed his shoe and hit him on the thigh," Milbury recalled in a recent interview. Despite being suspended six games for the incident, New York couldn't get payback back then. However, in 2023, Boston's overaggressive play would come back to haunt them.
Late in the second period, David Pastrnak's hit on Ryan Lindgren into the boards resulted in Lindgren. bleeding Pasternak receiving a five-minute penalty for boarding and a game misconduct. The Blueshirts didn't capitalize on the ensuing man advantage but generated good looks, setting the stage for them to seize the next opportunity.
The Blueshirts struggled to break the Boston box defense and their top-ranked penalty kill through their first four power plays. That said, the Rangers were being too passive with the puck. They weren't shooting through open lanes. They were too stagnate at times. "It's obviously frustrating whenever you don't score on a three-minute power play, Trocheck said. "But I thought we did a lot of really good things on those power plays earlier in the game."
Their breakthrough finally came on the fifth attempt. Trocheck's wrist shot from the slot, assisted by a well-executed give-and-go with Mika Zibanejad, tied the score at 1-1 with 9:11 to play. This marked the Rangers' 28th power-play goal of the season, with the first unit contributing to 26 of them.
Trocheck described the play, "Me and Mika were in different spots. I was where he usually is, and he kind of gave me an outlet, and then I was trying to get back to my spot.
He made a great play through a couple of legs, and I had some time in the slot." Trocheck then secured the win in overtime, becoming the sixth player in franchise history to score a tying goal in the final 10 minutes of regulation and the overtime winner. His total for the season now stands at eight goals and 27 points, placing him second in overall scoring.
"I think that's a game that kind of brings a team together, Trouba said. "The final 10 minutes seemed almost like a playoff game how tight it was. It was fun to play, it was great for our team, and it's something we can build off of after the last stretch where it's been a little inconsistent or not getting to the game we love and want to be known for." On this night, it was unmistakably "Black and Blueshirts" hockey.