As they began the post-All-Star break portion of their schedule Monday at Madison Square Garden against the visiting Calgary Flames, the Rangers were gearing up for a playoff push that will see them play 33 games in 67 days to close out the season.
The game had a little bit of everything, goals, goaltending, three fights – two by Jacob Trouba – and a large dose of controversy. But in the end, it was Alexis Lafreniere who won it for the Rangers, winning the race to collect the rebound of a shot by Mika Zibanejad and shooting it into a vacated net at 1:37 of the overtime to give the Rangers a thrilling, 5-4 victory.
Zibanejad’s second goal of the game at 12:55 of the game forced the overtime, but not before the Rangers were forced to kill a tripping penalty to Vincent Trocheck with 2:41 remaining.
The Rangers held a 3-2 lead entering the third period, courtesy of two goals by the white-hot Filip Chytil and a power play goal by Zibanejad in the final minute of the second period. But Calgary tied it on a controversial goal by Andrew Mangiapane at 6:40. The puck went in off Mangiapane’s skate and goaltender Jaroslav Halak, starting over Igor Shesterkin in this one, erupted at the referee complaining the puck had been kicked in.
After a lengthy video review, the Situation Room in Toronto ruled the puck had not been kicked in, and the goal stood. Things then got worse for the Rangers when Calgary defenseman Michael Stone beat Halak (xx saves) with a one-time slapshot at 8:41 to give the Flames a 4-3 lead.
Chytil, who had been red hot before the break, with four goals and an assist in the last three games before play halted, opened the scoring at 5:37 of the first period. He took a pass from Kaapo Kakko, banked off the right boards, entered the Calgary zone on his off-wing on a two-on-one, and beat goalie Jacob Markstrom for Chytil’s 17th goal of the season.
Blake Coleman jammed one in against Halak at 10:25 to tie it, 1-1, and then things got physical. First, Trouba dumped Dillon Dube at the Flames’ blue line, and Calgary’s Chris Tanev attacked Trouba, who was ready, and fought Tanev off to a draw. Tanev got a roughing penalty in addition to the fighting major, giving the Rangers their first power play of the game at 13:57.
Slightly more than two minutes later, at 16:16, there was another dustup, when Sammy Blais, back in the lineup after his recall from a conditioning stint at Hartford, checked Milan Lucic in the neutral zone. Nikita Zadorov attacked Blais, and Calgary’s MacKenzie Weegar attacked rookie Will Cuylle, got the drop on him and punished him with several devastating left hand strikes. Once again the Rangers got a power play out of it all, as Blais was deemed to have hit Lucic cleanly, Weegar and Cuylle got fighting majors and Lucic was sent off for roughing.
Chytil made it 2-1 at 2:02 of the second, gobbling up the loose puck when Nazem Kadri fanned on a pass in the Rangers’ zone, sprinting the other way on a breakaway, and beating Markstrom with another quick shot.
At that point, Calgary was outshooting the Rangers 20-11, but Halak was keeping the Rangers in the lead until the Rangers were called for a too many men on the ice penalty and Tyler Toffoli scored on the power play at 16:25 of the period.
But then Trouba blasted Kadri to the ice, knocking his helmet off. Dube jumped Trouba, but the Rangers captain was waiting for him and pummeled Dube, who, on top of losing the fight, was given an instigator penalty at 19:04. That gave the Rangers the power play that led to Zibanejad’s goal, a backdoor dunk off a pretty, no-look pass from Chris Kreider, at 19:46.