MATT: There were a few players who I thought were in th running for tonight's top star, but when you score three goals for the first time since your junior hockey days, you get it by default. Carl Hagelin's big night began immediately when he drove to the net and got a piece of Kevin Klein's wrist shot — after Benoit Pouliot got his own piece of the puck — and deflected past Ondrej Pavalec to get the Rangers on the board just 1:15 into the contest. His strong work on the penalty kill help to lead to his second goal with just seconds left in the second period from a pretty pass from Martin St. Louis, which held up to be the game-winning goal. Hagelin's third — and prettiest — came in the third period on a pin-point wrist shot that beat Al Montoya five-hole that iced the game. Hagelin was shifted to a line with Pouliot and Brad Richards, and clearly it paid immediate dividends.
My second star goes to No. 30 who picked up No. 301. Henrik Lundqvist had an admittedly shaky start, but was simply perfect after the 3:26 mark of the first period. He stopped everything the Jets threw at him, and made some very big saves, especially in the second period with the game tied. Despite the 4-2 score, the Blueshirts were out-shot each period and out-shot for the game, 32-23, making Lundqvist's performance even more crucial. The win gave Lundqvist his 301st win of his NHL career, all with the Rangers, which tied him with Mike Richter for most in team history. The win also sets him up to surpass No. 35 Sunday at Madison Square Garden before the Rangers embark on another three-game road trip.
My third star goes to Derek Stepan, who has really stepped up (no pun intended) his game over the last week or so. If not for Hagelin, I think he — and Chris Kreider — was the team's best forward wearing a white jersey last night. He was strong on the puck and had the gorgeous pass to lead Kreider on the rush for his goal in the first period. Stepan nearly had a tally of his own short-handed when he picked Dustin Byfuglien's pocket behind the Winnipeg net, something that isn't easy to do. Stepan finished with an assist, two shots, two takeaways and a blocked shot in 15:36 of ice time, 2:20 of which was spent on the penalty kill.
JIM: Not too often you achieve a career franchise record-tying milestone, and yet end up as the No. 2 Star, but that is Henrik Lundqvist's fate Friday night as I am with you, Carl Hagelin needs to be the Rangers First Star. He recorded his first career Hat Trick, scored three goals on three shots, delivered four hits, and just played with tremendous energy throughout. I liked that all three of his goals were different and showcased different aspects of his game. The first came on a deflection in front, a direct result of him providing the "net presence" Alain Vigneault has been talking about needing more of recently. The second goal--the game-winner--showcased his smarts, alertness, and speed as he read the play perfectly and got himself into position in the low slot for a Marty St. Louis pass instead of heading for a line change. His third goal was scored off the rush with a left wing shot. Well done. Hats off to Hags!
After a shaky start in which he allowed two goals on five shots less than four minutes into the game, Lundqvist settled in and played a strong game Friday night; and he needed to because there were times Winnipeg was all over the Rangers in the offensive zone, using their size and skill to get to the net consistently. Lundqvist told me after the game that he had to adjust his game plan, become more aggressive, and needed to focus better after that start. That's impressive, and shows what kind of intelligent competitor he is. Lundqvist finished with 30 saves, his 301st victory, and a share of the franchise's all-time wins record.
A lot of options for the Rangers Third Star honors, but I am going with Chris Kreider. When his legs are moving and churning consistently Kreider is a special player; and Friday night his legs were moving right from his first shift. Kreider was physical, in on the forecheck all night, going hard to the net, and though he did score his 17th goal, he could have had at least one, maybe two more because of his willingness to get to the net. The goal he scored was a beauty, speeding up left wing to grab a long pass from Derek Stepan, and then snapping a wicked shot past Al Montoya off the rush in the left circle. When he plays like he did on Friday, Kreider is mighty fun to watch out there.