New York – The New York Rangers were able to stop a two game slide Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden as they came back against the Ottawa Senators and secured a 4-3 victory. It certainly wasn’t an easy victory but the Rangers will always take it whenever they can as the Metropolitan division gets tighter and tighter. It smelled like a disaster after twenty minutes of flat, inconsistent play for the Blueshirts but they were able to right the ship for the last forty minutes of play.
The Senators opened play scoring two goals within the first three minutes against Antti Raanta who, started for the sick Henrik Lundqvist (flu). The first period was skating clinic as the Rangers were outworked in every aspect. The only forward group that showed hope was the line of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello – as usual. The Rangers found themselves down 3-1 by the end of the first and were booed off the Garden ice. Nick Holden was the lone Rangers goal scorer in the period on a sharp angle shot that fooled Senators goalie Mike Condon. For Holden it was his 5th goal of the season.
The middle period proved to be somewhat different as the Rangers came out with more energy and more the speed, the game we are used to seeing from the team. Raanta came up with huge saves early in the period to keep the game from getting out of hand. Within the first three minutes, Stepan, who, screamed at his team on the bench after being down 2-0 in period one to wake up found a loose puck and cut the deficit to one. It would be Stepan’s 8th of the season and it would ignite the Rangers as they began their comeback. The Rangers got a power play late in the period and within five seconds the Rangers cashed in on a beautiful redirection from Stepan (9th of the season) to tie the game at three. The Rangers were looking much better going into the third period.
The Blueshirts continued to press in period three and nearly half way through, Holden worked the puck in deep behind the Senators net and was able to wrap the puck around and slip it underneath the pads of Condon and put the Rangers ahead 4-3. The was the difference maker as the Rangers and Raanta shut the door. A completed comeback and a resilient effort for two points on the final home game of 2016 calendar. Since Dec. 22, 2015, the Rangers have posted a 28-5-1 record in the game following a loss (regulation or overtime/shootout). New York has posted an 11-1-1 record in games following a loss in 2016-17.
The story of the game was the offensive contributions from the defenseman. Rangers defensemen registered six points (two goals, four assists) in tonight’s contest, and at least one defenseman tallied a point on each of the team’s four goals. Three Rangers defensemen have recorded 16 or more points this season (Ryan McDonagh, Nick Holden, and Brady Skjei). Holden tied a single-game career-high with two goals, registered the game-winning goal, and posted a plus-one rating in 21:23 of ice time. The Rangers have won seven of their last 11 games against the Senators, dating back to Jan. 18, 2014 (7-4-0).
Alain Vigneault had travel trouble getting back to New York early yesterday so he was not at the morning skate and as far as his thoughts on how the game unfolded, the coach went on to say, “There’s no doubt that (was) a worst-case scenario to how the game started. I think it says a lot about our group about staying with the process. That’s a team that when they have a lead, they don’t give up a lot. Step’s line came up real big for us. I thought 5-on-5 and on the power play, they really put some second and third efforts into some of their plays on the ice. Nick Holden without a doubt from our defensive group, not just because he scored the two goals, but his compete level to loose pucks, his battle level. And for me after giving up the first two goals on two shots, the way Antti responded. In the second period they had some grade-A looks. He made the saves and gave us a chance to crawl back and fight back. We were able to get two points out of this game, so it says a lot about the resolve of this group.”
As for his thoughts on Stepan getting up and trying to get his team going the coach gave nothing but high praise, “I really like the way Derek stepped up on the bench and in between periods. We needed a push back. At some point your leaders have to take command. We didn’t start the way we wanted, but nobody was going to feel sorry for us. We had to step up and put our big boy pants on and go out and battle, and that’s what the guys did.”
When asked about stepping up on the bench Stepan went on to say, “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about the last two games. It’s so important to have good chatter on the bench and we had none of it, no emotion. I know our coaching staff really expects our leadership group to step up at times and in that moment I felt that was a good time for me to step up and try to light a fire on somebody and try to turn things around and get people thinking the right way.”
Raanta certainly battled and was the big story in periods two and three as he made key saves to keep his team in it. When asked about the team’s ability to comeback after a bad start the goalie went on to say, “You just have to pretty much forget what’s on the scoreboard and just go there and try to focus on the next shot. It was a 3-1 game and we were playing pretty good in the first period, so that’s why it felt pretty bad that it was 3-1 after the first. I knew that if we could get our second one (goal) and I could make the saves, we have a good chance to come back. The guys did an unreal job in the last two periods to bail me out. The third period was a really good example of that. We scored a goal, and then the last ten minutes the puck was pretty much in our end. It was a great job by the guys – they were blocking shots and we were playing like we used to play. It was a great feeling to get the win.”
The Rangers will now head on the road as they will visit Arizona on Thursday and then a New Years Eve battle with the Colorado Avalanche. Two games in which the Rangers need to come away with points to stay near the top in the division.