Two goaltenders brought their “A+” game to Madison Square Garden last night and neither one deserved to lose. Finally, one of them cracked.
Chris Kreider scored with 53 seconds left in overtime to give Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers a thrilling 1-0 win over Carter Hart and the Philadelphia Flyers last night at Madison Square Garden.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner did not get a whole lot of action with 19 saves but he came up big when he needed to, including stoning former Ranger Kevin Hayes twice in the third period on golden opportunities to score.
Late in overtime, Flyers’ right wing Travis Konecny fired a shot that missed wide and was picked up by Mika Zibanejad who passed the puck to a wide open Kreider who was streaking down the left side for a breakaway. It was almost like he was already in the shootout, as Kreider made a move on Hart, who made five saves in overtime, and was able to back hand the puck past him for an official goal to end a very exciting and entertaining hockey game.
“I thought Mika, I thought he was going to come with me, little panic set in when I saw he was just giving it to me and let me take it,” Kreider said. “I tried to shoot low blocker early in the game so I figured I’d try to fake it and go back hand.”
Zibanejad was at the end of a shift so he wasn’t in any shape to catch up to his teammate. “I knew I wasn’t gonna catch him [Kreider]. Just laid it in there and let him take care of the rest,” Zibanejad said.
For the first 60 minutes, the Rangers (6-3-2) did everything but score. There were numerous scoring chances and the Rangers had bad puck luck by hitting four posts but Shesterkin was a notch better than Hart and the Blueshirts were able to win their third in a row.
A little over a minute into the game, Hart stopped Adam Fox on a backhand shot from the slot. Later, Vincent Trocheck was standing at the goalmouth when he deflected Alexis LaFreniere’s shot off the post. Shesterkin did his part as he stopped the Flyers’ Lukas Sedlak in front and the teams were scoreless after one.
Hart and the post combined again to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard in the second period.
In the opening moments, Kreider found K’Andre Miller with a pretty drop pass, but Hart made the save on a shot from the slot. With 7:30 left in the second, Kappo Kakko, who may have been the Rangers’ best player last night, set up Zibanejad for a wrist shot in the slot that hit the post.
The Flyers were on the power play in the latter stages of the second period when Kreider broke in on a shorthanded breakaway, but he became the third Ranger to hit the post when he clanged one off the left iron as the puck rolled tantalizingly along the goal line.
The teams were scoreless after two but at the end of the period, frustrations boiled over and Ryan Lindgren was given a four minute penalty, giving the Flyers a power play to start the third period, but the Rangers were able to kill that off. Rangers were 3 for 3 on penalty kill, 0 for 3 on the power play.
The fourth time that the Rangers hit the post in the third period was probably the most frustrating one of the night. Jacob Trouba threw a puck towards the Flyers’ net that LaFreniere snagged and got a back hand shot that got past Hart, but the puck hit the left post and stayed out.
With all the near misses, the game became a test of the Rangers’ mental fortitude. A test that Zibanejad feels the Rangers passed with flying colors. “I think we did a pretty good job not getting frustrated with all the chances that we had and all the posts and crossbars that we hit. We found a way and got two big points,” he said.
On the ensuing rush up the ice, Philadelphia’s Travis Konecny streaked down the right wing side and created a good scoring chance but Shesterkin stopped the first shot and the rebound to keep the game scoreless.
With two and a half minutes left, Hayes broke in on left wing. The former Ranger held the puck to elude a sliding Zac Jones before firing a shot that Shesterkin snagged with the glove.
Hayes had another chance with over a minute left as he was in all alone in front of the Ranger net. Hayes made a move and tried to put a backhand past Shesterkin, but the Ranger goalie cut off the side of the net and was able to corral the puck.
“Igor was solid,” Head Coach Gerard Gallant said after a satisfying win. “I think if you ask him, he’ll say he had a pretty easy night for the most part, but at the end, I think he made two, maybe three great saves and that was huge.”
Rangers had a 36-19 shot advantage, but the Flyers have tightened up defensively under former Ranger coach John Tortorella and with a quality goaltender like Hart, they’ll be a tough opponent most nights.
“Philly played a good game,” Gallant said. “They play a tough game, they play a hard game. They give you the outside a lot and they battle in the net front. Their goalie made some great saves. I can’t say we didn’t bury our chances, we hit the post.”
This was the Flyers’ only visit to MSG this season. In their last 11 meetings, the Rangers are 7-2-2 against Philadelphia.