“We wanted to be able to close it out, especially on a night like this, so that’s definitely frustrating.” That post game quote from Rangers defenseman Mark Staal summed up the evening quite nicely.
“A night like this” began with the Rangers honoring another one of their all time greats, while one of their current players, whose number will be up in the rafters in due time, nearly stole the show.
Henrik Lundqvist was absolutely spectacular and it appeared that the Rangers would top off a memorable evening with a win but it wasn’t meant to be. The Rangers blew a 3-0, third period lead and ended up losing in a shootout to a talented Winnipeg Jets team, 4-3.
Before the game, the Rangers honored the first 50-goal scorer in team history as they retired Vic Hadfield’s #11. Hadfield became the 10th player to be so honored in franchise history and it also marked the third and final member of the famous G-A-G (Goal-A-Game) line to have his number put up in the rafters at Madison Square Garden.
Seven of the retired numbers were on hand including Jean Ratelle whose #19 was the previous number retired last February when it was first announced that Hadfield would join them. Those players wore the blue sweaters. Also in attendance were a number of Hadfield’s teammates, who were not so renowned but were beloved by those Ranger fans (like myself) who “grew up” in the “blue seats.” That list included such legends as Bob Nevin, Ted Irvine, Bill Fairbairn, Bruce McGregor, and Jim Neilson. Joining them were Pete Stemkowski, who got one of the louder ovations, Walt Tkaczuk and Brad Park. Those players wore the white sweaters.
Former Rangers Coach Emile “the Cat” Francis got a huge ovation from the crowd (that was, unfortunately, half full) and he even added a little levity to the festivities. Francis who was one of the speakers, was addressing the crowd, but he kept turning away from the microphone and the fans started to yell, “LOUDER.”
During the ceremonies, the current Rangers all wore #11 sweaters and the “Voice of the Rangers,” the great Sam Rosen, did his usual superb job as the emcee.
The Rangers had a 3-0 lead heading to the third period but it was only because their future Hall of Fame goaltender was putting on a show. “He’s as good as there is out there in my opinion,” Coach David Quinn said after the game. “He was unbelievable, he’s the reason we got the record we have. This guy’s been outstanding from day one.”
Lundqvist took more shots than “Sonny at the toll booth,” as he made 39 saves in giving the Rangers a chance to steal one because they looked a little outmatched against a Jets team that combines physicality with skill and depth.
It was 3-0 early in the third when Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith was called for cross checking. The Jets cashed in on the opportunity as Mark Scheifele scored his 16th goal of the season. A little over two and a half minutes later, Winnipeg’s Jack Roslovic made it a one goal deficit. Lundqvist did his best to keep the Jets off the board but the Jets tied the game on Bryan Little’s goal with 2:30 minutes remaining in the third period. “We put ourselves in a really good spot starting the third, but then we take that early penalty and that’s just not the way you wanna start the third period,” Lundqvist said.
Both teams had chances in overtime but Lundqvist made what was arguably the save of the game in the extra session. Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor took a feed from Scheifele and fired a one timer from the right wing side. Much to Connor’s chagrin, Lundqvist anticipated the play and was able to smother the shot and keep it out of the net.
The shootout ended when the talented Scheifele beat Lundqvist to end a “roller-coaster” type of evening. “We tried to survive for two periods and then, finally they got a goal, they just kept coming, that’s the feeling I had all game,” Lundqvist said.
Even with a three goal lead, it appeared the Rangers were playing uphill. The Jets kept coming in waves as they fired 42 shots on Lundqvist, including 18 in the third period. The Ranger goalie was frustrated after the game as evidenced by his first answer to MSG Network’s John Giannone when he was asked if the tide turned when Winnipeg scored their first goal to start the comeback. “Momentum,” Lundqvist sarcastically, “I don’t what game you were watching but I felt like they owned us.”
Mika Zibanejad, who had two assists and was one of the Rangers’ better players overall, said they tried their best but Winnipeg is hard to handle. “We weren’t really able to slow them down like we wanted to,” Zibanejad said. “We kept telling ourselves to push and to keep playing and not just sit back and wait for time to run out. It’s a good team, we gave them a little too much time and space out there, that’s for sure.”
The loss capped off a frustrating weekend for the Rangers who were beaten 5-2 in Montreal on Saturday night. The Rangers don’t play again until Saturday in Florida. They now have six days off to ponder a jolt of reality as the Jets showed the Rangers that they have a ways to go if they want to be looked at as a real contender in the NHL. “They were the better team, no question,” Lundqvist said.