For the first time in 19 months, the Garden was near full capacity. There was an emotional ceremony before the game to honor the late Rod Gilbert. There was all the pageantry of a home opener. The only thing that was missing was a Ranger win.
Defenseman Miro Heiskanen beat Rangers’ goaltender Igor Shesterkin at 1:38 of overtime to spoil the home opener and give the Dallas Stars a 3-2 win in overtime, before 17,173 fans at Madison Square Garden.
Artemi Panarin, who is off to a slow start, made a poor decision in overtime that led to the winning goal.
Panarin skated into the Stars zone but tried to force a pass through a bevy of bodies. The puck came loose. Stars left wing Jamie Benn took it and fed Heiskanen, who skated down the right wing with Stars center Tyler Seguin trailing.
Jacob Trouba was the only Ranger back but Heiskanen was able to get in close enough to beat Shesterkin, with a wrist shot, top shelf, over the goaltender’s right shoulder.
Unlike the opening game in D.C., it was a lackluster first period for the Rangers and they trailed 1-0 after one. Like the opening game, a rookie in his first NHL game scored his first NHL goal. Rookie center Jacob Peterson scored his first goal as he beat Rangers rookie defenseman Nils Lundkvist to put a back hander past Shesterkin with :35 seconds remaining in the first period. (Caps rookie Hendrix Lapierre scored his first NHL goal against the Rangers in the opener)
The first period brought back painful reminders of the recent Ranger teams that gave up late period goals and made too many “east-west” passes. The Rangers had a grand total of four shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes. Coach Gerard Gallant indicated that adjustments were needed after the first period. “You can’t get the cute goals every night so when you work hard every night, get to the tough areas, the blue paint, you’re gonna score some goals,” Gallant said.
The Rangers penalty kill (1 for 2, 4 for 8 against on the young season) continued its early season struggles as Stars center Radek Faksa scored on the power play a little over six minutes into the second period for a 2-0 lead.
It was ironic that a great save by Stars goaltender Braden Holtby turned the momentum. Ryan Strome was wide open in front of the net and was absolutely robbed by Holtby, who made a fabulous glove save.
The Rangers seemed to catch fire at that point as they controlled the game for the remainder of the second period. “Started playing more north hockey. Simple, getting pucks behind them, coming at ‘em in waves,” Chris Kreider said after the game.
A little over two minutes after Strome was denied, Adam Fox, the reigning Norris Trophy winner who was the best player on the ice, scored his first of the season to cut the lead to 2-1.
The Rangers tied the game at two with a little over four minutes left in the second period, as Kreider deflected K’Andre Miller’s shot past Holtby for his second goal of the season. “You saw how we can play when we do the right things,” said Fox.
Both teams had chances in the third period.
Kreider was robbed on the doorstep by Holtby, who left the game after that with a lower body injury while Stars center Joe Pavelski hit the post with less than five minutes remaining in the period.
Holtby was replaced by Anton Khudobin who stopped all six shots he faced including holding off a Rangers power play that finished 0 for 4 on the night and is now 1 for 9 on the season.
Except for the mistake that led to Peterson’s goal, Lundkvist showed why he is so highly regarded. “I just told the kid to go out there and have fun. Play your game, don’t worry about it being your first game,” the coach said. “It’s an exciting time for him. I think his skill level and his talent. He’s just gonna get better and better and better. You see a lot of skill there and he’s got a good hockey I-Q.”
Panarin has not played up to his standards so far, but it is early. Kappo Kakko and Ryan Strome played well while the fourth line of Kevin Rooney, Dryden Dent and Ryan Reaves gave the Rangers a couple of good shifts.
The Rangers outshot the Stars (33-26) outhit them (32-23) and won more face offs (30-28) They won the score sheet but didn’t win the scoreboard.
Despite their 0-1-1 start, Kreider is optimistic the Rangers will come around. “As we progress here, as we continue to get better, find a way to do that for the full sixty, we’ll be fine,” he said.