Maybe Alexis LaFreniere will have a storybook career. The first chapter may go down as a seminal moment in Rangers history.
The number one overall pick of the 2020 NHL Draft made his first NHL goal a memorable one. The Ranger phenom put a nifty wrist shot past Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark at 2:47 of overtime, to give the Rangers a much needed 3-2 victory.
Even in the post game Zoom call, you could feel the relief emanating from coach David Quinn after the Rangers snapped a four game losing streak, where every loss was by one goal. “Pretty freakin’ good,” Quinn said, when asked by WNBC-TV’s Bruce Beck how it felt to be on the winning side of a one goal game.
Six games into a truncated 56-game season, playing only divisional opponents, the Rangers were 1-4-1 and losing out on valuable points. “We needed this,” said Quinn. “We had done a lot of good things, I looked in the standings and I see our point total regarding the rest of the league and I’m shaking my head.”
Throughout the game, you could “smell” it coming for Lafreniere, who had a number of very good scoring chances, just as he’s had throughout the first six games. The Rangers are hoping this is the first of many to come.
In overtime, Colin Blackwell had a tremendous shift that set up the winning goal.
First, he checked the Sabres’ best player, Jack Eichel, from rushing right past him on the right wing side for what would’ve been a breakaway. A few moments later, Blackwell used a stick check to steal the puck from just outside the Sabres zone and he broke in on a two on one with LaFreniere on the left.
Blackwell showed patience and held the puck long enough to create a passing lane and feed LaFreniere, who was able to flick a wrister past Ullmark from the left circle for his first career goal and the game winner. “It’s pretty crazy. You know, overtime, game winning goal. It was really special and I’ll never forget this moment,” LaFreniere said after the game.
Blackwell has provided some grit and energy for the team. Quinn put him on the ice for the second shift of overtime and it paid off. “You gotta let the eye test determine who plays hockey, not where they were drafted, not their resume’, said the coach, who was smiling after the game. “We needed a win tonight and this kid (Blackwell) deserves to be out there, that’s why he was out there.
Except for the previous game against Buffalo, the Rangers were playing well enough to win but they weren’t getting the results. It appeared that would be the case again as Ullmark was “standing on his head” and denying the Rangers at every turn.
Igor Shesterkin got the start in net and made 23 saves. Shesterkin made some key stops throughout the game, including 15 of 16 in the third period. “I personally felt great in overtime after a tough third period with a lot of work,” Shesterkin said after the game.
Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Ryan Strome. Artemi Panarin took a pass from Pavel Buchnevich (Rangers’ best player in the game) and drifted behind the goal line to Ullmark’s right. Panarin found a wide open Strome with a pass out in front of the net and the Rangers center did not miss.
Buffalo tied the game at one with 22 seconds left in the first period as Jack Eichel just got past K’Andre Miller enough to tip in a pass, from Sam Reinhart, past Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
The Rangers took a 2-1 lead in the second period on Artemi Panarin’s goal that ended a four game drought but, early in the third period, the Sabres tied the game again.
With Ryan Lindgren in the penalty box, it took just 20 seconds into the Sabres’ power play to tie the game. Reinhart capped off a tic-tac-toe play to make it 2-2. Taylor Hall threw a cross ice pass to Victor Olofsson, who was in the right face off circle. Olofsson passed to Reinhart who was down low behind the Rangers defense and he easily deflected the puck into an open net.
LaFraniere was the lead story but Blackwell has made an impact in the three games that he’s worn the Ranger sweater. Quinn feels he’s got something there in the 27-year old from Harvard. “We get so caught up in where people are drafted and the hype about people but I don’t give two craps about that right now,” he said. “We want to win hockey games and he was the best option. How’d it work out?”
Just fine coach, just fine.
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