Forgive me, but I did not expect much excitement at the Rangers/Devils match-up yesterday afternoon. The Rangers have been on a roll lately (8-1-1 going into yesterday’s game), and the Devils, well, have been less than exciting. But, what unfolded was a 4-3 barn barner–a New York win in OT that rivaled some of the best games I have seen this season.
Frankly, it was hard to believe that any coming regular season Rangers’ battle would rival Thursday night’s game in Toronto. In that goalie duel, the Rangers wound up defeating the Leafs 2-1 in an SO. It was one of the best display of goaltending skills (by Cary Price and Henrik Lundqvist) that I have seen in a long time. It was a game that rightfully should have ended in a tie. A game that showed why we should not have shootouts to decide ties. Don’t get me wrong, I love shootouts for the show of one-on-one skill, but it takes an entirely different skill set to win an SO. And it should not take away from the 60-minute battle that just took place on the ice. But, I have already lost that battle (I am just reminding you of my strong objections), and besides, I digress from the game at the Pru at issue in this article.
Last night, those of us who covered the team(s), expected it to be one-sided and less of a Devils show of offensive production. But, although that’s how it was set up, it was anything but a goaltending duel. The Rangers put backup goalie Antti Raanta between the pipes and gave Henrik a rest yesterday. Tactically, it was an excellent idea–before last night, Raanta’s numbers against New Jersey were excellent (think, a below 2.00 GAA). And across the ice was Corey Schneider (one of the better goaltenders in the League).
But, the hockey gods had a different plan for the game (a plan that turned out to be just as entertaining as Thursday night in Toronto, but completely different). The Rangers started slowly and then put in two beautiful goals. By the end of the first period, it was easy to believe that New York’s 2-0 lead would hold up. But then, toward the end of the second period Adam Henrique wrapped the puck around Raanta and pulled New Jersey within one goal. But with a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, and the Devils recent history, it was easy to believe that this would be a defensive battle for the rest of the way.
Far from it. Just 30 seconds into the final period in regulation, Kyle Palmieri just shot the puck past an unscreened Raanta, who missed it glove-side, and the score was tied. Less than a minute later, Palmieri tipped Andy Greene’s shot on a 5-on-3 PP and the Devils pulled ahead. It was the Rangers’ usual spare defenseman Adam Clendening, who drove the puck from the blueline, and sent the game into OT. Although it was a long shot and normally Schneider should have had it, he was screened by his own man and the puck got by him.
With the score tied at three goals a team, the game went into OT. As much as I hate SO’s deciding tie games, I love 3-on-3 OT. What a show of skill is possible every minute of the five-minute period. Palmieri was clearly looking for the hat trick against his childhood favorite Rangers. But Raanta was fantastic on Palmieri’s two shots. That enabled New York rookie defenseman Brady Skjei to pass up ice to the streaking Mika Zibanejad, who faked a shot and then put it through Schneider’s legs. Not a particularly good play for Schneider, but a wonderful moment for Mika, who had not scored a goal in 15 regular and OT games.
When Head Coach Alain Vigneault was asked about Zibanejad and his goal after the game, he did mention that Mika’s SO goal against Toronto on Thursday may have helped his confidence. So, maybe I am wrong on my feelings about shootouts. Maybe it does have value that translates to regulation. But, I still don’t like great games, that have real defensive and time on the ice strategies, being decided by a totally different skill. With the 3-on-3s being so popular, what’s wrong with a second five-minute 3-on-3? Fans would love it and its much more in keeping with the game that just ended.