Rangers 3, Blue jackets 2.
Fellow bonehead goodguyinsports wrote us a hell of a review. Enjoy!
1. I’ll say this for NBC Sports games: they always give me a few extra minutes to run home from work, because I’ve mostly been operating on Pacific Time since leaving Connecticut in my teenage years. During the last meeting in Columbus, the Jackets opted to play backup goalie Curtis McElhinney in a 5-4 Rangers comeback victory. McElhinney has since departed for Toronto, and this time the Rangers got their understudy Antti Raanta some work. It was a well-deserved night of rest for Mr. 400 Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Raanta could have asked for an easier opponent: this was his first full game since December 29 in Arizona, a game I attended in person. He turned in a fine performance against the Jackets anyway, stopping 29 shots in a 3-2 Ranger triumph.
3. Are we worried about playoff seeding yet? Games like these could determine whether the Rangers play Columbus, Montreal, or Pittsburgh. No matter the opponent, I’d like to see the Blueshirts head into the postseason playing with the kind of resilience they’ve shown over the last couple of weeks.
4. John Tortorella wasn’t messing around, throwing out a familiar face in employing Brandon Dubinsky’s shutdown line right off the opening faceoff. He did so to match up with the Rick Nash line. Despite not appearing on the scoresheet, Nash had an active night. He started out alongside Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad, but Buchnevich only saw nine minutes of ice time overall. I was not surprised to see that Nash tied for the team lead in shots on goal with four.
5. With the possible exception of Cam Atkinson, I thought rookie defenseman Zach Werenski was the best Columbus player. Werenski racked up five shots and frequently looked to push the pace. He was not involved in any of the Blue Jackets’ goals, though. Brady Skjei doesn’t have a gaudy goal total, but he seems a little like Werenski’s counterpart on the Rangers. Skjei, who of course is also a rookie, has often been an offensive catalyst due to his skating ability. Both have 23 assists, just one behind rookie leader Matthew Tkachuk.
6. Speaking of Atkinson, he was a deserving All-Star even though he filled in for Evgeni Malkin. One of Raanta’s finest moments involved making consecutive saves on the diminutive winger. He was unable to add to his impressive total of 27 goals in this one.
7. Scott Hartnell was involved in a scary play when he raced toward the Ranger net for a puck pursued by Nick Holden. Instead, he fell hard into the boards and remained on the ice for some time. He returned briefly but was eventually forced out of action.
8. Columbus didn’t come out flying like they did at the outset of the last meeting at Nationwide Arena, but an early delay of game penalty against Buchnevich led to the game’s first goal. With seconds left in the power play, Seth Jones made a long pass to Brandon Saad. Saad skated behind the Ranger net and made a backward pass to Brandon Dubinsky, who banged the puck home. By that point the power play had expired, but the man advantage clearly had an impact on the play as a whole. 1-0, Columbus.
9. The Rangers looked to equalize, but the dice came up snake eyes. Buchnevich made a centering pass for Zibanejad, but the puck just eluded him. Midway through the first, Skjei and Jimmy Vesey had golden scoring chances near the net but were thwarted by Sergei Bobrovsky.
10. Michael Grabner had a four-game point streak snapped, but his speed was on full display. At one point, he forced Bobrovsky to ice the puck on his own team’s power play out of sheer terror as Grabner moved toward his crease.
11. After Josh Anderson was whistled for breaking Holden’s stick with a slash, the Rangers did very little with the opportunity. J.T. Miller whiffed on an attempted one-timer, and the Jackets blocked two more New York shot attempts. Sam Gagner took down Derek Stepan near the end of the frame, and the Rangers spent a considerable time passing the puck on the delayed call. Once the power play began, Columbus penalty killers collapsed around the crease. The Rangers were unable to make them pay from the point despite a shot on goal from Ryan McDonagh. Seth Jones wanted a slashing call against Stepan, but replays showed Jones breaking his own stick.
12. Grabner, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast showed good commitment during the final minute but couldn’t quite solve the Russian netminder. A Kevin Klein holding penalty negated any further offense before the horn sounded.
13. Columbus began the second period on the power play, but Miller came away with the puck from the faceoff circle. He centered for Kevin Hayes, who flung the puck behind him to Dan Girardi. The recently hobbled Girardi didn’t hesitate in firing the puck, and it may have nicked Atkinson before finding the net just 12 seconds into the period. It was the first shorthanded goal allowed by Columbus all season, and afterward I could clearly hear a few loud Ranger fans enjoying the shorthanded goal. The game was tied 1-1.
14. A questionable hold against Lindberg was soon negated when Boone Jenner high sticked Grabner while skating away from the Austrian sniper. The penalty parade continued when Miller got a boarding call because his check sent David Savard awkwardly into the wall. Savard would later return the favor in surprising fashion, high sticking Miller even though the second period was two seconds from completion.
15. An aside: why are there commercial breaks with 32 seconds left in a period? Can’t they add a couple of more commercials to the intermission break? P.S. I am not a crackpot.
16. Stephen Valiquette pointed out that both teams had excellent records when tied after two periods. The Rangers’ mark was 11-3-1, while Columbus came in 9-2.
17. Alain Vigneault’s gang could have seized the momentum in the third with an immediate power play goal. Instead, it took nearly five minutes to break the deadlock. Hayes stole the puck from Savard at center ice, who was surprised by the dish from his partner Jack Johnson. Hayes shot five-hole past Bobrovsky on the breakaway for the go-ahead marker. The scoreboard read 2-1, good guys.
18. A little later, I’m pretty sure the NBC Sports announcers called him “Jimmy Hayes.” Hayes has credited summertime workouts alongside McDonagh for his improved play this season. Regarding the goal: “I cheated a little bit and it worked out…got him to open up the five hole.”
19. I wasn’t really surprised when Columbus tied the game, because they had looked dangerous with the puck immediately beforehand. It was a similar formula to the first goal in that the Jackets used the area behind the net. Savard skated past the goal line, sending it to Nick Foligno directly across from him. At first it looked as if Alexander Wennberg had picked a corner, but Foligno actually banked the puck off Miller’s skate in front. Cannon. Raanta had little chance to play that carom, and the game was deadlocked 2-2.
20. Stepan took the puck at his own blue line and made a short pass to Vesey. That’s all that #26 would need. He zoomed into the Columbus zone, did some nifty stickhandling, and seemed to freeze the netminder who might have been worried about Nash in front. The puck had a majestic trajectory as it settled into the left portion of the net. You could sense how good it felt for Vesey to finally hit pay dirt. He has 13 goals for the season but seemed to have been unlucky lately. Holden was credited with the other assist. Tortorella looked nonplussed on the Columbus bench, and it was 3-2 Rangers.
21. Grabner got in nearly alone on Bobrovsky, but he couldn’t make it a two-goal game. At least his activity level drew a Werenski penalty with just six minutes on the clock. After the power play ended, William Karlsson got a head of steam but didn’t manage to reach Raanta.
22. Tortorella managed to pull the goalie, and there were some nervous moments around Raanta as the clock wound down. At one point he had to pin the puck against the goal post. Still, it felt like Columbus was slow to move things along even as they ran out of time. There would be no empty net goal, but more importantly the Blue Jackets didn’t score either.
23. I noticed some physicality to the game in terms of checking, but not as much snarl as I have been seeing lately. My favorite nickname for Zuccarello has become “Scrappy Doo” because he likes to hurl himself at much larger opponents. Those kinds of moments were largely missing from this encounter. It was a quiet game from the normally rugged Chris Kreider, although he has posted several excellent ones recently.
24. Kevin Klein did not register a shot on goal the game after scoring twice, but he was back to his trademark shot blocking. Girardi and Staal led the team with three blocks each, while Klein had two.
25. Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara is from Oulu, Finland. That’s basically the Arctic Circle. And you think you get bad snowstorms.
26. During postgame Tortorella seemed surprisingly upbeat. He couldn’t help but adding: “We gave them some free stuff.” Is that like “free outs” in baseball? Against a team as strong as the Jackets, why not accept them?
27. It’s a six-game winning streak for the Rangers, their longest this season. Given that they trailed by two against Nashville and got behind 2-1 after two periods of play versus lowly Colorado, that feels good to say. Suddenly, they have tied the Jackets’ 75 points with one fewer game played. Next up on Thursday: Doug Weight’s rejuvenated Islanders, whose arena issues remind me a bit of the Tom Hanks character in The Terminal.
28. National Hockey Card Day is this Saturday, February 18! I’m not the hobbyist I once was, but I always hit my local card shop for a free pack, and maybe another that isn’t.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Antti Raanta
2. Jimmy Vesey
3. Kevin Hayes