For the past several weeks the Rangers and Head Coach Alain Vigneault have said the results will come.
“We’ve been playing better than our record indicates,” is a popular saying for Vigneault.
And tonight it rang true.
The Blueshirts 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Flames had a little bit of everything.
Right from the opening face-off the Rangers came out flying; a pleasant change of pace from their last several games.
With all the noise surrounding the team and its’ Trade Deadline plans, the Blueshirts added fuel to the fire by starting two rookie defensemen.
Neal Pionk and John Gilmour were called up from Hartford early in the day and made their NHL debuts side-by-side.
Three shifts into the game, Pionk and Gilmour had their numbers called and took to The Garden ice for the first time in their NHL careers.
“It was a dream come true,” said Pionk. “The first couple of shifts were special but after that it was just hockey. And it was special to be able to play together with John (Gilmour).”
The Blueshirts fed off the youthful energy their new defensemen brought. And 7:53 into the game, Kevin Hayes cashed in.
With the Rangers on the power-play, a mess of bodies converged in front of Calgary goalie Mike Smith and somehow Hayes found the puck on his stick. Smith stopped Hayes’ initial shot but two more whacks at the puck resulted in the little rubber disc going into Calgary’s net.
10 minutes later, Brett Kulak tied the game, his first of the year; taking some of the life out of the New York crowd.
Tied 1-1 after one, the Blueshirts looked to regain the lead in the second.
But the Hockey Gods threw them a curveball.
Starter Ondrej Pavelec came out of the game during the first intermission due to a knee injury.
And just like that, the Rangers’ plan to rest Henrik Lundqvist went out the window as he was forced into action starting the second period.
Calgary came out swarming to start the middle period, but the Blueshirts weren’t in the mood to stand down.
11:52 into the period, Michael Grabner sent a long shot towards Smith and it banked off a Flames skater, past Mike and into Calgary’s net.
Grabner’s goal put New York up 2-1, but the lead didn’t last long.
Less than a minute later, Curtis Lazar split through Nick Holden and Tony DeAngelo; sliding the puck under Lundqvist to tie the game. It was Lazar’s first of the season.
And six minutes later, Matthew Tkachuk tipped a long shot past Lundqvist on the power-play; giving Calgary their first lead of the night.
“They got some momentum in the second on their power-plays,” Alain Vigneault said after the game. “But we were able to battle back and get a big win.”
Trailing going into the third period is never a recipe for success. But true to their coach’s word, the Rangers came back.
With 6:41 gone by in the final period, Rick Nash continued his recent hot-streak when he banged the loose puck past Smith; tying the game at three.
With the score tied, the Blueshirts used Calgary’s game-plan against them.
A Sam Bennett holding call gave New York a power-play. And just as the Flames used the man advantage to gather momentum in the second period, so to did the Rangers in the third.
A beautiful cross-ice pass from J.T. Miller landed perfectly on Mika Zibanejad’s stick. And in one fluid motion, the Blueshirts’ center put the puck in Calgary’s net; taking a 4-3 lead.
A late penalty by Kevin Hayes gave the Flames a six-on-four advantage for the final 1:32, but Henrik Lundqvist came up big. And the Rangers secured a much needed 4-3 win.
“It’s an emotional win for everyone in here,” said Mats Zuccarello. “I thought we battled hard today, we showed some character and it was a deserved win I think.”
BLUESHIRT BULLET POINTS
PAPA JOHN’S: The Rangers scored three goals or more (four) for the first time in quite a while. And it’s the 22nd time in 55 games the Blueshirts managed to light the lamp four times.
RAISING THE CURTAIN: Two young defenseman began their NHL careers in front of the rapid Rangers’ fanbase. Neal Pionk and John Gilmour certainly delivered a worthwhile opening act with each exceeding 15 minutes of ice time.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Blueshirts went two-for-five on the power-play, including the game-winner. And five-for-six on the penalty-kill. Overall, an excellent showing by the team’s specialty units.
THIRD PERIOD RESILIENCY: It’s the fourth time this season the Rangers have comeback to win a game after entering the third period trailing.
The Rangers face Patrik Laine and the Jets Sunday (Feb. 11) at Bell MTS Place. Game time: 3 p.m. ET. Broadcast: MSG+.
Mats Zuccarello said it best: “We needed to get some confidence in the group and some positivity in here. I thought we responded well to whatever is happening lately and we played for each other. We had a really good game tonight and everyone came up strong.”