When Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said “I’ll tell you what I told my GM, what I told my president, what I told my owner: I’m gonna try to win every game, and that’s what we have to do as a group,” he wasn’t kidding. Ever since general manager Jeff Gorton alerted RangersTown of the imminent rebuild, the Rangers have put together two consecutive quality performances. The Blueshirts followed up their win on Friday against Calgary, with another thrilling victory in today’s contest in Winnipeg. Despite all the trade rumors and key injuries surrounding the Blueshirts organization, the team has now strung together two impressive wins, to put them only 2 points out of the second wild-card spot in the ultra-competitive Eastern Conference.
The Rangers early-game woes continued, as they got off to another slow start this afternoon in Winnipeg. After the Blueshirts dodged a bullet with Tyler Meyers’ goal being called back due to a successful offsides challenge by Alain Vigneault, the game didn’t remain scoreless for much longer. Just 54 seconds later, Nikolaj Ehlers beat Henrik Lundqvist on a one-time slap-shot, and this one would count. Lundqvist looked very shaky early on in this one. Henrik leads all NHL goaltenders in goals given up within the first 2 minutes of games. However, as per usual he would settle in as the period went on, making a number of key saves to keep the deficit at one.
Winnipeg sustained the better of the play as the first period went on, heavily out-chancing the Rangers 22-7. The Rangers continued to force the home-run passes, resulting in many turnovers and scoring chances for the Jets. Towards the very end of the period, the Blueshirts started to find their game. After giving one up early in the period, Mats Zuccarello was able to capitalize on a Nikolaj Ehlers turnover to knot the game at one, with 1:06 remaining in the first. Today’s tally was only Zuccarello’s ninth of the season, and his first in 21 games, with his most recent goal coming on December 16 against the Boston Bruins. The goal marked Zuccarello’s 40th point of the season, making this his 5th consecutive 40 point campaign.
After a disappointing first period, the Rangers were lucky to enter the second with the game tied. Fortunately for the Blueshirts, they were able to carry the momentum they established late in the first period, into the second. The Rangers responded after a discouraging first 20 minutes by upping their game, as they out-chanced the Jets, 35-18, and outshot them 18-10. With three effective, yet unsuccessful power-plays in the second period, the Blueshirts certainly had the better of the play.
During the latter half of this period, the game got a little chippy. Cody McLeod fought Matt Hendricks, Blake Wheeler ran over Henrik Lundqvist, and skirmishes began to occur following almost every whistle. Henrik Lundqvist remained relatively untested in the second until his magnificent glove-save on Tyler Meyers with just over 5 minutes remaining.
— Fitz (@FitzyGSN) February 11, 2018
The third period got off to an interesting start for the Blueshirts. 56 seconds in, J.T. Miller took a tripping penalty to put the Rangers on the penalty-kill. After a successful kill, Miller took another tripping penalty just 16 seconds after being let out of the penalty box. The Blueshirts had yet another successful penalty kill, their 4th of the afternoon, thanks to a few more tremendous saves by King Henrik.
— Fitz (@FitzyGSN) February 11, 2018
Lundqvist’s magnificent play kept this game tied, and that is all the Blueshirts would need. With just under 4 minutes left in the period, Brady Skjei’s point shot deflected off the arm of his roommate Jimmy Vesey, and past Connor Hellebuyck, to give the Blueshirts a 2-1 lead. Vesey returned from a three-game absence due to a concussion and had a big impact in today’s contest. The Rangers dodged another bullet, as Mark Scheifele deflected one past Lundqvist, which was called back because of a high-stick. The Rangers regrouped, and were able to seal the deal with an empty-net goal by guess who? None other than Michael Grabner, who recorded his 23rd tally of the year, and 7th empty-netter, as he’s now only 3 shy of surpassing Pavel Bure’s NHL record 9 empty-net goals in one season. Grabner’s goal put this one out of reach, and secured the victory for the Rangers over the Jets, who boast the highest home winning percentage in the NHL.
Following today’s impressive win, the Rangers will be back in action on Tuesday night, as they take on the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center (8:00 PM, MSG).
Brian Paget is on Twitter @BrianPaget17