If you don’t believe in the Rangers yet, you may want to start because they’re pretty darn good.
The Rangers scored five unanswered goals and reached the midway point of the season with a come from behind, 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Garden last night. According to @NYRStatsInfo, it was the Rangers’ 12th comeback of the season, tied for fourth most in the NHL.
Through 40 games, the Rangers are in first place in the Metro division with a 26-10-4 for 56 points, two points better than Carolina, who has four games in hand.
The Leafs stunned the Rangers with two quick goals just 3:30 into the game, but they held their composure and thanks to goaltender Igor Shesterkin, they were able to rally.
On the eve of his 35th birthday, Ryan Reaves scored two goals (that’s not a typo) for the second time in his career, while Adam Fox and Chris Kreider continued their stellar seasons. Fox had two goals and an assist while Kreider scored his 25th goal of the season to tie Toronto’s Auston Matthews for third in the league.
It was a good night for the top six forwards as they combined for nine points with Ryan Strome scoring a big goal, while Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin each added two assists.
Toronto’s Ilya Mikheyev scored at 2:44 of the first period for a quick 1-0 lead. 46 seconds later, Mitchell Marner scored on the power play and the Leafs had the sluggish Rangers on their heels with a 2-0 lead.
“I was a little worried, to be honest with you,” coach Gerard Gallant said after the game. “We come out a little sleepy, obviously, just seems when you get back from those road trips, for some reason, the first period’s tough.”
The Rangers fourth line of Reaves, Greg McKegg and Kevin Rooney was their best line of the night and they keyed the comeback. “That line has brought energy when we needed it. It hasn’t always resulted in goals but when you see them get rewarded like that, it lifts the whole team up,” Fox said.
Reaves found himself wide open in front of the Toronto net and he took a beautiful, back hand pass from McKegg in the corner and buried the puck past Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell for his first goal with the Broadway Blues to make it a one goal deficit.
That energized the crowd who began chanting, “Reav-O,” “Reav-O” but less than five minutes later, the Leafs retook a two goal lead. Michael Bunting beat Jacob Trouba to the front of the net and directed a rebound of a Matthews shot into the net for a 3-1 lead after one.
Early in the second, Reaves’ second goal of the game and his second as a Ranger, cut Toronto’s lead to 3-2. The big right winger scored on a rebound of a K’Andre Miller shot that bounced off the back boards. Reaves fanned on one attempt but the second one was true as he snuck it in past Campbell, top shelf on the short side.
“You never want to go three months without scoring,” Reaves said, “I tend to do that a lot in my career. Feels good to get them out of the way, especially in this barn.”
With a little over two minutes left in the second, Fox tied the game with his sixth goal of the season. Strome and Panarin had the assists but Filip Chytil deserved a half-assist because he kept the puck in the zone to start the play.
From there it was the Igor show. First, he made four saves on John Tavares in a :13 second span late in the period as the teams skated off, tied at three after two. Early in the third, Panarin’s shot was blocked by William Nylander who took the puck and went in on a breakaway but was denied by Shesterkin to keep the game tied, prompting chants of “Igor,” “Igor” from the raucous crowd at MSG.
The Ranger goaltender, who, to the surprise of many, was not named to the all star team, made 35 saves, including the final 27 Toronto shots over the final two periods.
Midway through the third, Ryan Lindgren’s shot deflected off of Nylander right to Strome on the right side and he buried the puck for his 9th goal of the season to give the Rangers their first lead at 4-3.
With just under four and a half minutes left, Kreider scored to make it 5-3. Campbell made a pad save on Jacob Trouba’s shot from the point, but it ended up on Kreider’s stick. With the Toronto goalie down on the ice, the Rangers leading goal scorer was able to maneuver his position and put the puck in the back of the net.
With less than four minutes left, it appeared Matthews had scored to make it a one goal game, but it was ruled that the Leafs’ leading goal scorer had used a distinct kicking motion and the goal was waved off.
Fox scored his second of the game into an empty net to cap off an impressive win over one of the better teams in the league. Fox’s has 41 points and is the first Ranger defenseman since Brian Leetch in 2000-2001 to have 40 points (or more) in the first 40 games.
Reaves had not had a two goal game since 2013 when he was with the St. Louis Blues. “Well, it’s about time,” Gallant said with a smirk. “We love ‘Reavo,’ he gets around that net and scored a couple of big goals for us. He was really excited and I know our team loved it when he gets in front of the net and scores those goals.”
The Rangers have feasted on the non-playoff contenders but they’ve more than held their own against the better teams in the league.
Reaves said the players in the room believe that they can play with anyone in the league and this win justifies that faith. “It shows that we can hang with the big boys. That we are one of the big boys,” he said. “We gotta keep beating the playoff teams and that’s something we’ve talked about. I think we’re proving to the league, we’re proving to ourselves that we’re contenders.”
They get another “big boy” test on Friday night when they head to Carolina for a first place showdown with the Hurricanes.