The Rangers have been waiting for Alexis Lafreniere to break out and start showing the skill that made him the number one overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Lafreniere gave the team and the fans at Madison Square Garden a taste of that skill last night as he literally set up and scored the game winning goal in overtime to give the Rangers a thrilling, 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames.
Lafreniere scooped up a loose puck in the defensive zone and streaked down the ice on a two on one with Mika Zibanejad. Lafreniere passed it to Zibanejad, who fired the puck. Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom made the save but ended up out of position. Lafreniere came back from behind the net, corralled the puck and fired it into the open net for the game winner at 1:37 of overtime.
“It was kind of a full ice, two on one,” a smiling Lafreniere said after the game. “Had a little bit of time there, just looking for Mika on the other side and the rebound got in front, so I just tried to put it in.”
Filip Chytil stayed red hot with two more goals. The 23-year old, who is developing into a star, extended his goal scoring streak to four straight games. Chytil has five goals in his last four games and has scored ten goals since the calendar flipped to 2023. He also has 13 points in his last 12 games.
“He [Chytil] had a break out last year in the second half of the season and through the playoffs,” Gallant said. “This year, he’s more confident, feels stronger and bigger.”
Zibanejad scored two goals, while Artemi Panarin had two assists to reach 300 points as a Ranger.
Jaroslav Halak got the start in net and made 28 saves for his sixth straight win. Halak got some help from the posts in the second period and made some clutch saves when the Rangers were shorthanded late in the third period and in the overtime. Markstrom made 28 saves, including stoning Zibanejad on a deflection and denying Jimmy Vesey a few moments later on a back hander in front
This was not only one of the most exciting games of the year, but also one of the most physical.
Both teams were hitting and despite the teams each registering 25 hits, it was the Rangers who, led by Jacob Trouba, had the better of the physical play. The Rangers captain was credited with six hits including two, clean hard hits that led to some fisticuffs.
“You try to kinda get yourself back into the game after a long layoff, the Rangers captain said. “They’re a big, physical team. I thought we played well, we can play physical too.”
This was like an ol’ fashioned NHL game. Coach Gerard Gallant offered his own theory on why there was so much physical play. “I don’t know, first game back, maybe the guys were pissed off that the break was too short. I don’t know how to explain it,” Gallant said.
In the first period, Trouba leveled Flames’ center Dillon Dube. Calgary defenseman Chris Tanev retaliated and was given an extra two minutes, putting the Rangers on the power play, but they failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
Same thing happened late in the second period. This time, Trouba got a clean, hard lick on Milan Lucic, who has made a career of being physical. Dube stuck up for Lucic and was given an instigator penalty to go along with a five minute major for fighting.
This time, the Rangers took advantage of the man advantage to score the go ahead with :14 seconds remaining for a 3-2 lead after two. Zibanejad took a nice, cross ice feed from Chris Kreider and fired it past Markstrom for his 23rd goal of the season.
The Flames scored two straight goals in the third period to grab a 4-3 lead.
Calgary’s Andrew Mangiapane scored the tying goal at 6:38 but appeared to have kicked the puck in the net. After a review, the goal was upheld. “I thought it was kicked in, for sure, but you move on,” Gallant said. Just 2:03 later, Flames’ defenseman Michael Stone fired a slap shot past Halak to give Calgary their first lead of the game.
Zibanjejad’s second goal of the game with a little over seven minutes remaining tied the game at four. Panarin skated past the goal line and passed a nifty little backhander in front, where Zibanejad was able to get it past Markstrom for the tying goal.
The Rangers almost didn’t get the game to overtime. With 2:51 left in the third period, Vincent Trocheck took a tripping penalty, but the Rangers killed it off to force the extra five minute session.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the first period as Chytil scored the first of his two on the night, assisted by Kappo Kakko and Adam Fox, who now has 39 helpers on the season.
Calgary tied the game midway through the first on a goal by Blake Coleman and the teams skated off after one, tied at one.
Chytil’s scored his second goal of the game on a breakaway to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead early a little over two minutes into the second period. Chytil broke in ahead of the Flames’ defense and beat Markstrom with a nifty little wrist shot.
The Flames tied the game midway through the second period with a power play goal. Panarin came on the ice too early to force the officials to call a bench minor for too many men on the ice and Tyler Toffoli beat Halak, who was screened, to tie the game at two.
Rangers won their second in a row and are 9-2-2 in their last 13 games.