It took a comeback from a 2-0 hole, a rally from a 3-2 third-period deficit, 65 minutes of hockey, plus seven rounds of a shootout, but the Rangers finally snapped their four-game losing streak Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, outlasting the Calgary Flames by the score of 4-3.
The Rangers and Flames traded three goals apiece through six rounds of the shootout before Benoit Pouliot's gorgeous move and finish put New York up 4-3 in Round Seven. With the Blueshirts Faithful on their feet chanting "Henrik! Henrik!", Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made a right-pad save on Calgary's Mikael Backlund and the Rangers had their first win since December 5th in Buffalo.
It was the Rangers first shootout of the 2013-14 season, and ended up being Lundqvist 46th career victory in 76 NHL shootouts. Mats Zuccarello in the first round, Brad Richards in the fourth round, and Dominic Moore in the sixth round also scored for New York against Flames goalie Karri Ramo in the shootout, with Calgary rallying three times to pull even before The Garden could explode after Lundqvist finally stopped Backlund to ensure the victory.
Ten days of frustration coursed through Lundqvist as he threw his arms straight up in the air and tossed his head back in celebration after the victory was complete.
Chris Kreider banged in the rebound of a Derek Stepan shot with 7:53 to play in the third period to tie the game 3-3, and eventually force overtime. Mere moments after the Rangers had killed off a Flames power play Stepan danced around a defenseman and skated towards the net where he fired an in-close shot that was stopped by Ramo. Kreider forced his way in and backhanded the loose puck into the cage for his eighth goal of the season.
Kreider's goal offset the one scored by fellow rookie sensation Sean Monahan 4:44 into the third which had given Calgary a one-goal advantage. Monahan chipped his tenth goal of the season over the glove of Lundqvist when left alone in front of the Blueshirts net.
The Rangers had a terrific opportunity to snap the tie late in regulation when Calgary handed them a 5-on-3 power play for a total of 1:21, but though the Rangers had three shots on goal and chipped another few chances wide of the net, they could not score. To make matters worse Kreider accidentally high sticked Flames defenseman Chris Butler in the face, drawing a double minor at 18:04.
Behind a stellar penalty kill the Rangers survived Krieder's four-minute penalty, including the 2:04 that carried into the overtime period, giving the Flames a tough-to-defend 4-on-3 advantage. After coming out of the penalty box Kreider had a pair of glorious scoring chances, but was denied both times by Ramo.
As has become the norm recently for the Rangers on home ice, they fell behind early in the first period and found themselves down by multiple goals several minutes later. However a clutch goal by Stepan just 25 seconds after the Flames had grabbed a 2-0 lead helped settle things down before the first intermission could arrive, and also set the stage for a very strong second period in which the Rangers were able to forge a tie while outshooting the visitors 12-3.
Before there was any good for the Rangers, there was the not so good, though. Backlund's power play deflection of a Kris Russell shot beat Lundqvist 7:28 into the game, marking the fourth straight contest the Blueshirts had surrendered the game's first goal on home ice. Curtis Glencross doubled Calgary's advantage at the 15-minute mark of the first period with his sixth goal of the season, and the Rangers were staring at a 2-0 first-period deficit.
Desperately in need of something positive to happen, the Rangers got just that when Stepan and Rick Nash teamed up on a give-and-go in the Flames zone that finished with Stepan's right wing shot eluding Ramo to the long side at 15:25, bringing the Rangers back within one. The goal was Stepan's sixth of the season, first in 11 games, and only his second in the past 19 contests. Five of his six goals this season have been scored at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers seemed to gain energy from Stepan's score and slowly started to turn the game in their favor. After finishing the opening period in strong fashion the Rangers went out and controlled play in the second period---except for a stretch when they were forced to kill off another 4-on-3 Flames power play.
Before facing that crucial penalty kill, the Rangers tied the game on Carl Hagelin's sixth goal of the season. Dominic Moore started the scoring play with a crisp cross-ice pass to Pouliot who was flying up left wing. Pouliot drove a shot on net that was stopped by Ramo, but he fed the rebound to Hagelin behind the goal line, and Hagelin carried it behind the net before scoring on a wraparound at 7:29.
Less than two minutes later John Moore and Lance Bouma were sent off for coincidental minors after engaging with one another after the whistle at 9:07. During the ensuing 4-on-4 Hagelin shoved Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano into Ramo, drawing an interference penalty and sending the Flames to a 4-on-3 power play.
Over the next two minutes--which included 5-on-4 power play time---the defense pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi remained on the ice the entire time, with McDonagh blocking two shots along the way. Lundqvist made one impressive glove save, and the Rangers kept momentum on their side by killing off Calgary's power play.
At 14:19 of the second period rookie Dylan McIlrath---one of seven defensemen dressed Sunday night by Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault---dropped the gloves for the first time in his NHL career, while playing in his second game since being recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack on Friday. For his first opponent McIlrath did not shoose a lightweight by any stretch of the imagination. Instead McIlrath battled grizzled veteran Brian McGrattan, the 6-foot-4, 235 pound veteran who had amassed 534 penalty minutes in 262 career games entering play Sunday.
McGrattan landed more blows, with McIlrath loading up on several big punches of his own. The rookie also had a cut on his cheek as it appeared he exchanged words of respect with McGrattan once the long bout had finished.
Midway through the third period McIlrath again headed to the penalty box, this time by himself on a questionable high sticking call at 9:48 with the Rangers already trailing again by that point 3-2. The Rangers killed off McIlrath's penalty and scored shortly thereafter to forge a 3-3 tie and set the stage for a thrilling finish at The Garden.
The Rangers do not play again until Wednesday night when they host the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins at MSG.