The New York Rangers’ season has taken a turn for the better since the last meeting between these two sides. At the beginning of December, I had the privilege of witnessing Nate Thompson’s game-winner in Madison Square Garden first-hand. It is a wonderful memory that I will always cherish. Entering Thursday night, the Rangers had racked up four straight wins and had an intimidating eight-game winning streak while playing away from home. Montreal on the other hand had not lost in regulation since the previous week.
The Habs were forced to manage without Jonathan Drouin due to injury. This led to Charles Hudon receiving an emergency call-up; his second stint in the NHL this season.
Carey Price took his usual spot in goal for the Montreal Canadiens, while the Rangers elected to start Alexandar Georgiev — arguably the most talented hockey player to ever come out of Bulgaria — in net. Henrik Lundqvist seems unable to retake his position as King of New York even with Igor Shesterkin sidelined.
Jeff Petry started the evening by receiving a two-minute minor for delay of game, after an unlucky bounce off his stick went over the glass in Montreal’s own zone. The clock had reached a mere 13 seconds when the Rangers, the strongest power-play team in the league since late December, received the game’s first man advantage.
The puck continued to bounce strangely off both sticks and boards during these initial minutes, eventually putting Price in a bit off a pickle when he had left his goal to clear behind the net. Luckily the New York power-play unit was just as surprised as Price when the puck bounced straight to them in the offensive zone and they could not capitalize on the short time with an open net.
Instead Montreal killed off that penalty and soon scored the first goal of the night. When he couldn’t find an available teammate to pass to, Max Domi decided to get help from the opposing team to get where he wanted instead. The first attempt ricocheted off the left skate of Adam Fox, forcing Georgiev into a reflex save to keep his shutout intact. Seconds later, another attempt managed to beat the young netminder, with Domi getting credit for a goal that was essentially just another pass into the slot that went in off the very same skate.
An unlucky sequence for Fox, which would be followed by yet another one as the rookie defender drew an interference call for dragging Jordan Weal to the ground during a breakaway.
Neither that nor the second consecutive power play through a tripping call on Jesper Fast would result in a doubled lead for the Canadiens. Four minutes on the man advantage did however help preserve the fragile lead until the first break.
Georgiev got to demonstrate his skill set during the middle of the second period. First he stopped Phillip Danault from ending his month-long scoring drought, with a quick goal line manoeuvre after having been out and about behind his own net. Danault was left completely alone in the slot and should have made it a two-score game, but the netminder appeared at the final second.
Less than a minute later, Max Domi fired a left-side howitzer during a breakaway he created single-handedly, but Georgiev was well placed for the save yet again.
Montreal received its third power-play opportunity when the Rangers got called for having too many men on the ice. One shot during the two minutes and the PP continued to struggle, even without Nick Cousins in the lineup.
Eventually the Habs would double their lead, and boy was it a beauty! Tomas Tatar became the recipient of a perfectly placed pass from Brendan Gallagher just as he entered the offensive zone with no New York defenders even in the same area code. All alone with Georgiev, Tatar demonstrated silky smooth hands luring his counterpart onto the ice before easily springing the puck into the net. Lucky for the goaltender, we were approaching the end of the period, meaning he would get a few minutes to recuperate from the presumed dizziness he must have felt after the Slovak’s display. If there was anyone who was still upset that Tatar didn’t get traded before the deadline, this was a fine pick-me-up.
We all know the drill by now. The Canadiens and two-goal leads are like rubber and glue. It just does not stick. On one of their only true goal-scoring chances of the whole second period, the Rangers scored to make it a one-goal game once again. The scorer, Phillip Di Giuseppe, netted his very first goal as a New Yorker, just to make the whole scenario even more irritable.
Price’s night had been uneventful to that point to say the least. Most of his 20-plus saves had been of the routine kind. Then he decided to show Georgiev who is the boss of the Bell Centre. Crazy reflexes saw the Montreal goaltender stop a Mika Zibanejad one-timer from the Ovechkin position out left, pushing the puck over the goal like a soccer keeper.
Carey Price gets across for a huge save. pic.twitter.com/Gp6cpApwQc— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 28, 2020
As if that save wasn’t enough, the home team decided to make the game even more exciting by taking a tripping minor in the offensive zone shortly afterward. When that didn’t work, the Habs’ defence decided to give the opponents’ most lethal players a little too much space to work with. Artemiy Panarin served the aforementioned Zibanejad for a wrister, which beat Price at the far post.
Moments later, the Rangers had turned this contest around. Rookie defender Fox scored his second of the game, but his first for his own team. The shot itself was not a killer, but with Chris Kreider and Ben Chiarot screening Price the puck managed to squeeze in at the near post.
It really is ridiculous. You can’t even be angry anymore after seeing the same events unfold game after game. A two-goal lead is followed by a complete nosedive.
Gallagher chose to push Charlie Lindgren’s brother, Ryan, into the goal post and was awarded with his second stint in the penalty box during the period. The penalty kill ended prematurely when Ryan Strome scored on a deflection of a shot from the point by Tony DeAngelo.
The Canadiens removed Price from the net with 2:40 left to play at six-on-five, which only allowed the Rangers the chance to score a fifth goal. Marc Staal cleared from deep in his own zone, the puck took a deflection off Shea Weber’s stick, and it went in from a total distance of about 190 feet. Strome got credited with the goal in the end, his second of the night.
The Rangers did get their ninth straight road win, but to be fair this one was handed to them by the Canadiens. Montreal will stay put at home to play the Deadline Day-boosted Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night, with newcomers Vincent Trocheck, Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei presumably in the lineup.