The Rangers missed Ryan Strome.
Strome scored a power play goal in his first game back after missing the previous four and Chris Kreider set a franchise record as the Rangers tightened up defensively in a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils in Newark.
“You saw what a big hole it was when he was out and he brings some much to our team on the ice and he’s a huge part of our room. We missed him like crazy so it’s great to have him back,” said Kreider who scored his 47th goal and set a franchise mark with his 25th power play goal.
A lower body injury made Strome a spectator but he took advantage of being able to watch and assess things from above the ice. “Pick up on a few things and get back out there and try not to break up the mojo,” Strome said after the game. “We didn’t win all the games [that he missed] but I thought we were playing pretty good hockey, so nice to get back in there tonight and contribute to a win.”
In what became a recurring theme of late, the Rangers were outplaying the Devils in the first period, yet, they got behind 1-0 on a turnover.
Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba made a lazy play at his own blue line and passed the puck right to Devils’ center Yegor Sharangovich who skated in on a breakaway and beat Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev with a back hand shot at 6:56.
Midway through the first period, the momentum changed thanks to a big hit from an unexpected source. Rangers rookie defenseman Braden Schneider levied a hard, but legal body check on Devils’ center Jesper Boqvist.
Sharangovich immediately challenged Schneider, who acquitted himself well in this confrontation. The Devils’ center got five for fighting, a ten minute misconduct penalty and two for instigating, which gave the Rangers a power play and changed the momentum of the game.
“I wouldn’t say the fight, I’d say the hit,” Gallant said. “It was a good, solid hit. He stepped up in the neutral zone and obviously, we got the power play goal off that, so that was huge for us.” Gallant was referring to what occurred a little over a minute later.
Strome capped off a pretty passing play by scoring his 16th of the season on the power play to tie the game at one. Kreider, who was by the side of the net down low, passed to a wide open Strome in the slot and he fired it past Devils’ goaltender Nico Daws. Artemi Panarin got the first of his two assists in the game to set a personal best of 64 helpers.
Gallant was glad to see the power play click. “It was good to get those goals and they were nice goals, nice set plays. Good to see them work like that,” he said.
Later in the period, Devils’ center Pavel Zacha was off for holding and the Rangers made it two for two with the man advantage. Kreider was again positioned by the side of the net and he deflected a shot from Panarin, past Daws for a 2-1 lead as he continued his remarkable season.
“It is an underrated skill because as you see, most teams play that D-zone coverage, point men get a chance to shoot the puck so when there’s guys in front of the net with a good stick, it’s a lot of goals,” said Gallant.
The teams skated through a scoreless and eventless second period as the Rangers could generate only one shot while the Devils had six. “There was nothing going on in that period,” Gallant said. “Obviously, you don’t wanna see that with your team, with the high powered team that we got that can create chances, but there was nothing going on. They didn’t have many chances in that second period, either.”
Rangers defenseman Justin Braun was back in the lineup and he scored his first goal as a Ranger in the third period to make it a two goal game. Panarin got his second assist on the goal as he continued to be a Devils’ killer. The Ranger winger has 18 pts (5 goals, 13 assists) in last 11 vs New Jersey.
Alexandar Georgiev stopped 20 of 21 shots to earn the win. Andrew Copp continues his solid play as he had an assist and has now scored a point in 7 of 8 games he’s played since coming over from Winnipeg.
The Rangers opened a four point lead over Pittsburgh for second in the Metropolitan Division and trail first place Carolina by two points with 11 games to play. “We’re aware of where we are in the standings and where we’re at. Everything’s about winning,” Strome said.