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Rangers “Klein” aboard the Henrik Express to bury the Av’s

Marc Weissmanhank-400

Thanks to a pair of rockets launched by Kevin “Optimus” Klein and a stellar, 32-save performance from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers defeated the Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden Saturday night, 4-2. The win was the Rangers’ 4th straight at MSG, 5th in a row overall and by backstopping his team to victory, King Henrik reached the 400 NHL wins mark during in his illustrious, 12-year career on Broadway. Even more impressive is that it only took Hank 727 games to record those 400 wins, making him the fastest to ever reach that milestone in league history. Faster than the likes of HHOFer Martin Brodeur (735), 3-time Cup champ Chris Osgood (742), 7-time Vezina winner Jacques Plante (753) and 3-time Conn Smythe winner Patrick Roy (753.) In addition, Henrik is just the 3rd goaltender to ever record 400 wins with one team, Brodeur (NJD) and Tony Esposito (CBH) being the others.

But before Lundqvist would don the Broadway Hat and proudly show off his souvenir game puck for the camera, there was work to be done. And to their credit, the Rangers came out storming for their netminder against the last-place Avalanche. Just two and a half minutes into the game, Oscar Lindberg won an offensive zone draw cleanly by tying up his opposing center and kicking the puck back “Craig MacTavish-style” to defenseman Brady Skjei at the right point. Skjei wasted no time putting the puck in Klein’s “wheelhouse” – as Kevin would later describe it – and from dead center at the blue line, #8 cranked one through the pads of Avalanche back-up goaltender Calvin Pickard to give the Rangers an early 1-0 lead. For Klein, it was just his 2nd goal of the season, but right from the outset, Kevin was on his game. Prior to the goal, Optimus had masterfully kept the puck in at the point on a double-backhand play. And following the goal, he, Skjei and Adam Clendening all took turns firing away at Pickard, with Brady’s blast doing permanent damage to the netminder’s mask. For Skjei, his assist on the Rangers’ opening goal was the 23rd of his shining rookie season. In fact, Brady is the first Ranger rookie defenseman to tally at least 20 even strength assists since Hall of Famer Brian Leetch did it back in 1988-89. Pretty good company, eh? And other than taking some questionable penalties as of late, Brady has nicely rounded out his game at both ends of the ice, registering 4 assists/points in the last 4 games while going +4.

Later in the first, it was the Zibanejad/Zuccarello/Kreider line that combined to create their own high-quality scoring chances. Zucc fed Zib down the right side, and just as CK was charging towards the net, Mika centered a pass that first hit the post but then was fanned on by Kreider with lots of room on Pickard’s left side. But despite the Blueshirts controlling the game from the outset, Colorado’s play gradually improved and they started to play a better road game by slowing down the speedy Ranger forwards. That combined with some timely saves by Pickard enabled the Avalanche to stay within one goal of the home team when it very easily could’ve been worse. And just when it looked like New York would go into the first intermission up by one, Colorado’s Nathan McKinnon stormed down the left side into the Rangers’ zone. With Ranger Dman Nick Holden scrambling to keep pace, McKinnon stopped, curled to his left – leaving Holden in his wake – and found a trailer in Gabriel Landeskog. The Avs’ captain ripped a one-timer from the top of the left circle, beating Lundqvist to the far side with only 15 seconds left in the opening period. It was a tough pill to swallow for the Blueshirts because not only had they dominated the worst team in the NHL up until then, but because the Avs’ goal had come with the Stepan/Nash/Vesey line on the ice. That trio had already been struggling to find its O game in recent weeks, and at the very least, are defensively responsible. So for them to be on the ice for a collective minus was a double whammy.

Undaunted, the Rangers again came out flying in the 2nd period, but unlike the opening period, there was nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, former Ranger John Mitchell threw a seemingly harmless wrister from the right boards that deflected off Adam Clendening’s stick. The puck ultimately squeaked through Lundqvist’s pads and gave Colorado an unexpected 2-1 lead. Hank did appeal to the referee for possible goaltender interference, but upon further review, video replay showed that while Colorado’s Jarome Iginla did, in fact, contact Henrik’s goal stick, the contact happened after the puck was past the Ranger netminder. So the goal – and the Avs’ lead – stood.

As the 2nd period wore on and with the Blueshirts still trailing, they inexplicably began to shoot less instead of more, stubbornly making plays at the blue line as opposed to dumping the puck in and using their speed to retrieve it. They compounded the issue by attempting an inordinate amount of high-risk stretch passes from their own zone. These tactical errors allowed Colorado to play a more conservative trap game, picking off Ranger breakout passes with frustrating consistency.  But to the sell-out Garden crowd’s credit, “Let’s Go Rangers!” chants could be heard for inspiration rather than solely as a result to inspiring play. And one Blueshirt in particular responded: rookie Jimmy Vesey. JV has struggled to find the net recently – scoring only once in his last 16 games – but the Harvard grad put together two very strong shifts during the middle period. On one, Jimmy cycled all over the offensive zone, dishing off sweet passes in the process. During the other, Vesey carried the puck virtually end to end, drove hard to the net, and snapped a wide-angle shot that gave Pickard trouble. Best of all, Vesey’s hard work drew penalties on each of those noteworthy shifts. Unfortunately for the Rangers and their fans, the power play generated very little, ultimately going 0-for-3 on the night. For some reason, Coach Vigneault chose to start the Stepan line for one of those power plays even though that line had been on the ice for a long, dominant shift just prior. Meanwhile, Ryan McDonagh wasn’t his usual forthright PP QB self while his team was up a man.

But things would drastically change for both teams in the 3rdperiod. With the Rangers having scored more 3rd period goals than any other team in the NHL, and Colorado being dead last in both 3rd period goals for AND against, it was really no surprise how the final stanza played out. First, Kevin Klein again got involved in the offense. Just seconds after being stopped by Pickard on a snap shot from the right circle, Klein made a beautiful read to keep the puck in at the right point. Some crisp, tic-tac-toe passing from Jesper Fast to Lindberg followed, and when the puck eventually got back to Klein, big #8 wound up and fired a booming slap shot that beat Pickard cleanly to the top corner. The game was now tied at 2, and for Klein, it was his 2nd career 2-goal game, his only other one coming last March against Anaheim.

Only two minutes later, with the Garden still buzzing, Chris Kreider appeared to give the Rangers the lead near the left post. But after extensive video review, it was deemed the puck had never completely crossed the goal line, even though the overhead view showed Pickard’s glove behind the line when the puck contacted it. Nevertheless, the game remained tied…but not for long. Rick Nash was denied on a power move to the net, but the puck came back to McDonagh at the point, McD fed Stepan at the left circle, and Derek one-timed a beautiful pass right between Avs defenseman Patrick Wiercioch’s skates and onto Nash’s stickblade for the perfect redirection.  It was Rick’s 16th goal of the season, and more impressively, the assist that had eyes gave Stepan 40 points on the year, making him only the 2nd Ranger to ever register at least 40 points in each of his 1st 7 NHL/Ranger seasons. (Steve Vickers was the other, having done so during his 1st 9 seasons as a Blueshirt.)

Now clinging to a one-goal lead, all the Rangers had to do was weather the impending onslaught from the Avalanche. And that they did, thanks in large part to the magnificent goaltending of one Henrik Lundqvist. To the delight of the “HEN-RIK!” chanting fans at MSG, Hank stopped all 17 Colorado shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. This allowed Kevin Hayes to seal the victory into the empty net thanks to JT Miller making a beautiful defensive play in his own zone to break up a cross-ice Avs’ pass, and then Grabner with an equally heads-up pass to gain the red-line and avoid any potential icing call. Miller’s assist gave him at least a point in 16 of the team’s last 18 games. And for King Henrik Lundqvist, he is now the 12th goaltender in NHL history to have recorded 400 career wins, and the first and only Ranger goaltender to ever hit that mark.

Next up? It’s off to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets tonight, featuring former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky as well as Greenwich, CT native and the NHL’s 4th-leading goal scorer, Cam Atkinson. Should be a good one.

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Posted on February 13, 2017, in Game Recaps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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