Young Ranger defenseman Neal Pionk is not Bobby Orr, the great #4, nor is he the greatest defenseman in franchise history and Hall of Famer, Brian Leetch, but last night at the Garden, the 23-year old who is wearing #44, invoked memories of both with a move right out of their repertoires.
With 2:53 remaining in the third period, the Rangers and Canadiens were tied at three when Pionk took possession of the puck behind the Ranger net. Nine seconds later, the 23-year old was finishing off a beautiful end-to-end rush, with a “highlight reel” goal that beat Canadiens goaltender Carey Price for a 4-3 lead. 56 seconds after that, Mika Zibanejad added a shorthanded goal to cap off an impressive, come from behind, 5-3 victory that extended the winning streak to four in a row. The Rangers also reached the .500 mark (7-7-1) for the first time this season.
The Rangers got behind 3-1 in a second period that featured 44 minutes in penalties and a 20 minute malaise that Coach David Quinn attributed to a lack of “effort”. “I didn’t think we had an awful lot of that [effort] in the second period,” Quinn said. Montreal scored twice within a 2:30 span but Tony DeAngelo blasted a shot past Price just as the power play ended late in the second period to narrow the deficit to one goal.
In the third period, Pavel Buchnevich, who is playing a better brand of hockey lately, tipped in a rebound to tie the game at three before Pionk’s gave the Rangers the lead for good.
During this current winning streak, the Rangers have shown they can be resilient and they’re doing it with a crop of young players that have made them a very interesting watch. Lias Andersson made his season debut and despite a couple of high sticking penalties, the 7th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft had a pretty solid game.
The Rangers #44 brought back memories of Orr and Leetch as he began to rush the puck up the left side.“Went up the ice, cut to the middle, cut to the outside,” Pionk said. He began with a “spin-o-rama” move to get away from a forechecker in his own end and then started up the left side. Quinn liked the fact that Pionk was aggressive. “He [Pionk] saw open ice and he kept going, took advantage of it,” the Coach said.
When Pionk entered the Canadiens zone, he deked to the right and then went left as he was being checked by Canadiens defenseman Noah Juulsen. “I really didn’t think I had a step on him [Juulsen] but once I felt that I did, I cut to the net and put it in.” Price cut off the short side but Pionk was able to stuff it in from in front as he was falling down. “You know he [Pionk] can skate. He’s got a little bit of an offensive flair to his game,” Quinn said after the game.
Pionk’s goal got the team fired up and they took the cue to finish off their fourth consecutive victory. Kevin Hayes, who had three assists and is now one of the veterans on this team, said, “He [Pionk] went end-to-end, obviously he scored on one of the best goalies [Price] in the game.”
Chris Kreider’s 7th goal of the season tied the game in the first period and Zibanejad capped off a solid game with an insurance goal as the Rangers were killing off a 7th Montreal power play. Zibanejad threw a backhander on net that deflected off Price’s pad and right back to his stick where he could put it in to put the game away.
Of course, what’s a Ranger win without Henrik Lundqvist, who made 31 saves and is now one win behind Hall of Famer Jacques Plante for seventh on the all time list.
You could almost describe this Ranger team with a quote from that old Buffalo Springfield hit, “For What It’s Worth,” because “There is somethin’ happenin’ here.”
Quinn believes “you gotta earn victories in this league” and the players have earned them during this streak. Hayes said a lackluster effort in Chicago less than two weeks ago served as a wake up call. That was the Rangers’ last loss. “Since then, we’ve been kinda steppin’ on the gas a little bit and it’s a good feeling in the locker room,” Hayes said.