Payback is a bitch!
“We thought we owed ‘em one, so it was a game that we wanted to get back at them for, and I thought we did just that,” defenseman Braden Schneider said after his tie breaking goal in the third period helped exact a measure of revenge against the Maple Leafs with a 5-2 win in Toronto last night.
Schneider was referring to the disappointing 7-3 loss to the Leafs last Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Since then, the Rangers have won three straight, and are now a sparkling 11-4-1 on the road. Overall, the Rangers have won four of their last five with the only blemish being the loss to the Leafs.
Mika Zibanejad scored twice, Blake Wheeler and Erik Gustafsson each had three assists, and Igor Shesterkin looked like he’s rediscovered his game. Against the Leafs last week, Shesterkin gave up six goals in a 7-3 loss but he redeemed himself by making 31 saves and has looked very sharp in the last two games against Toronto and Boston. “We needed some big saves and I thought he was excellent tonight,” said Coach Peter Laviolette.
Martin Jones, who beat the Rangers last week, also made 31 saves and kept the Leafs in the game with some clutch stops.
In that game, the Rangers trailed by one after two periods but were uncharacteristically outplayed in the third period. In this game, the Rangers had a one goal lead after two and they were the better team in the final 20 minutes.
The third period didn’t start out the way the Rangers wanted it to. It was a 2-1 lead when the NHL’s leading goal scorer, Auston Matthews, scored his second goal of the game and 25th of the season at 1:16 of the third period to tie the game at two.
Toronto appeared to have the momentum and would duplicate what they did last week when they took over the game in the third period, but the Rangers followed up the tying goal with a couple of strong shifts and they were able to keep things settled from there.
All four lines were going but it was the fourth line of Jimmy Vesey, Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Pitlick that didn’t get on the scoresheet but may have been the Rangers’ best line all night. That line did all the dirty work and was relentless on the puck, keeping it in the Leafs’ zone for extended periods of time and they also combined for 11 of the Rangers 36 hits.
With the game tied at two midway through the third, Schneider rushed in and beat Jones with a nifty wrist shot to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead. The Ranger defenseman took a nice feed from Gustafsson and got behind the Leafs’ defense to score his second goal of the season.
“Gust [Gustafsson] gave me a good pass,” Schneider said. “I think there might’ve been a little bit of a pick or something, I don’t know what happened but there was some ice that opened up, I had some speed going through and I just tried to put it on net and fortunately enough, it went in.”
After Vesey nearly scored on a breakaway, Artemi Panarin, who had 8 shots on goal, scored on the power play with less than five minutes left to make it a two goal lead. Gustafsson and Vincent Trocheck had the assists.
Panarin’s shot caromed off of the skate of Leafs’ defenseman William Lagesson and into the net for his 17th goal of the season. The Rangers were two for two with the man advantage and have scored a power play goal in five straight games and 10 of their last 12. The PK got a night off as the Rangers did not incur a penalty.
With over four minutes left, Leafs’ coach Sheldon Keefe pulled Jones for the extra skater but Zibanejad ruined those plans as he scored into the empty net to put the game away with his second goal of the game and 11th of the season.
Unlike the previous game against Toronto, the Rangers wanted to get off to a fast start in this one. The Blueshirts played a solid first period and did everything but score as they outshot Toronto, 11-5 and outhit the Leafs, 15-6 as the teams were scoreless after one.
“What we were disappointed about was the way we started that game [last Tuesday at the Garden],” Laviolette said. “Didn’t give ourselves the best opportunity to be successful so tonight was a better start.”
Jones, who was coming off a shutout of the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night, made some big saves to deny Toronto native Will Cuylle (who was playing in front of a dozen family and friends) and Panarin, twice.
Zibanejad gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 6:11 of the second period. The puck deflected off of Leafs’ center Bobby McMann and clipped the Rangers center on his side before going in the net.
91 seconds later, Matthews was left alone in the slot and he put it past Shesterkin to tie the game at one.
The Rangers retook the lead thanks to their first power play goal of the game.
Alexis Lafreniere had gone 12 games without a goal before he finally struck paydirt. Lafreniere fired the puck on net and it deflected off the skate of Leafs’ defensman Morgan Rielly for the go ahead goal and a 2-1 lead after two. “It was a shot, but pretty lucky goal,” Lafreniere said.
K’Andre Miller missed last week’s game but he made some outstanding defensive plays while his partner, captain Jacob Trouba, had his usual solid, but unheralded game with 7 hits and 3 blocked shots. Jonny Brodzinski had an assist and 6 shots on goal and now has 7 points in his 11 games played.
The Rangers could never let their guard down against a Leafs team that had scored 19 goals in their previous three games and had recorded a point in nine straight games.
“I think we did a pretty good job in front of Shesty tonight and Shesty was great in that too, he saved us a couple of times,” Gustafsson said. “They’re a helluva team so it feels good to have those two points.”