NEW YORK – They won’t be sending this Rangers performance to the Hockey Hall of Fame any time soon. The Metropolitan Museum of Art won’t be accepting it, either.
The two points the Rangers earned in their final game before the All-Star break, though, won’t be getting returned.
Despite a sluggish performance through most of the night, the Rangers (27-13-4) found a way to sneak past the Senators (18-18-9) Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden on Carl Hagelin’s game-winning goal at 2:55 of overtime, taking a 3-2 win they probably didn’t deserve.
“They can’t all be Picasso’s, and this was definitely one of them,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “This game’s about finding ways to win, finding ways to win when you’re not at your best, and that’s what we did.”
“You don’t want to have a game – I wouldn’t want to have a start like that, trying to depend on a late comeback,” said Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh of the team’s uneven effort. “Our guys really bared down as the game went on. Our execution got better, our legs got a little better. In the end, I think everybody knew it was going to be an ugly two points, and some team was going to have to find a way. Fortunately for us, we got that second point.”
Barely. Kevin Hayes opened the scoring on a rebound midway through the second period, but was on the ice for the game-tying goal four minutes later and saw just one more shift the rest of the way. After Erik Karlsson tied the game at 13:38 of the second, Milan Michalek put the Senators in front with a power-play goal 1:03 later.
“I don’t think we were honest with ourselves – we didn’t have quite the execution in the first period, kind of let them hang around,” McDonagh said. “That’s what happened, they took a lead into the third. We talked about it in here, we weren’t going to let this one slip away from us. Sure enough, we were able to get the tying one and carry the majority of the play [in the third period].”
Chris Kreider tied the game early in the third period, taking a great feed from Marc Staal and beating Craig Anderson (32 saves) on the backhand, forcing overtime.
In the extra session, the Rangers got the win when Derek Stepan spun and found Hagelin at the goalmouth for the deflection goal, sending the Rangers to their 16th win in 19 games, their longest such streak since early in the Stanley Cup Championship season of 1993-94.
“At this point of the season the way the race is stacking up, everyone seems to be winning,” Kreider said. “Two points, regardless whether we’re playing home or away, before the All-Star break, after the All-Star break, in the middle of a road trip or a homestand, we need to win games. Everyone else is winning.”
“You have to find ways,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 33 saves for his 23rd win of the season. “It’s not going to be perfect all the time. For the big wins in Columbus and Pittsburgh to really stand out, you need to take care of business at home. If you lose today, it’s just an OK record for the last four or five. It was important to come back here and feel good about our game at home and finish strong before going on break.”
The Rangers long run of success, which started after the team got healthy following early-season injuries to Derek Stepan, Dan Boyle, and Ryan McDonagh, haven’t gotten them much traction in the Metropolitan Division playoff race because the teams around them keep winning, too. Despite going 16-3-0 in their last 19 games, they’re right in the middle of a tight playoff chase.
“Every night you’re looking at the games and the scores, I think our division this year is really good,” Brassard said. “Washington and the Islanders are surprising a lot of people. They’re playing really well. We’re going to be in a battle with those teams, Pittsburgh, and whoever’s going to come below us. We’re trying to get points every night, because you can’t have a bad stretch.”
“I feel we’re a good team,” said forward Mats Zuccarello. “Obviously we started off a little sloppy, but the last month or so we’ve been one of the best teams in the league, and I think that’s where we should be.”
The Rangers will send one representative to this year’s All-Star Weekend in Columbus, Rick Nash. The rest of the team is off for six days until they reconvene for practice on Jan. 26 before facing the Islanders on Jan. 27 on Long Island.
The Rangers defeated the Senators at Madison Square Garden for the first time since Oct. 3, 2009. Ottawa is now 13-1-2 in its last 16 games at the Garden.
The Rangers improved to 5-9-0 when trailing after two periods. Their five such wins are tied for fourth in the NHL, and their winning percentage of .357 is fifth in the league.