NEW YORK – There’s something about this place. Memories have been made here. Names like Messier, Graves and Richter – heroes of “Rangerstown” – cemented legacies here, their numbers adorning the rafters as a reminder of when, and how.
Everyone knows about Madison Square Garden. It has a way of bringing out the best, a way of celebrating great accomplishments.
To score your first NHL goal within these walls would be a moment as special as they come in this league.
Nikolaj Ehlers now knows that feeling.
“It feels pretty good, especially with it coming in here,” the rookie said of his first-period goal, tying the game after the Rangers took an early lead.
“I got a great pass. The guys worked pretty hard to get the puck to me. A great screen in front, some good traffic, it feels great.”
From there, it was all Jets offensively. Bryan Little added a pair including the game-winner and Mark Stuart rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter late in a 4-1 win over the Rangers Tuesday.
Michael Hutchinson stopped 40 of 41 shots in the win.
The Jets will now head home with a 3-1 record ahead of Friday’s home opener.
“Not an easy set up circumstances on back-to-back (nights),” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “We were pretty emotionally low after a poor performance yesterday. It was a good learning experience and a confidence builder for our team.”
The Rangers opened the scoring at 6:45, capitalizing on a turnover at the defensive blue line, fuelling a 3-on-1 back the other way. Posting up at the far side, Zuccarello easily converted Derick Brassard’s feed from the left circle, giving the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead and their eighth first-period goal of the season.
But the lead didn’t last – not with the talented Dane in the shooting lane.
Ehlers’ goal levelled the score less than a minute later – in the world’s most famous arena. On one of the NHL’s best goalies. With one of the most perfect shots imaginable, in just the fourth game of a promising career.
It’s the stuff of dreams.
With Drew Stafford providing a great screen in front of Henrik Lundqvist, Ehlers blasted a rocket bar down, tying the game just eight seconds into a Jets power play.
“He’s played well, he’s had good chances to score,” Maurice said, “and that was a heck of a shot.”
Ehlers, who played a pivotal role in Stuart's late goal, finished the night with two shots in nearly 15 minutes of ice time.
“It was exciting. We’re in New York!” Ehlers said with a smile. “It was a great experience playing my first NHL game in Boston, and finishing off this road trip with three wins. It was a great four games and we’re happy with the results.”
“We knew we were going to have some adversity and we faced some right off the start,” Hutchinson said. “After that, to answer right back, it’s huge for our team — especially when it’s a young guy getting his first goal. It really helps loosen everyone up.”
End to end action throughout the opening 20 spurred the Rangers to a 13-11 lead in shots. Of the 24 combined, 10 were recorded in the first five minutes.
A frenetic and highly entertaining pace, and more of what the Jets have been looking for, considering a pair of slow starts earlier on the road trip.
The Jets were called for four minor penalties in the middle frame, but the PK stepped up, killing them all before chipping in offensively as well. After scoring a league-leading 10 shorthanded goals last year, the Jets got their first of the new season at 18:49, propelling them to a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes of play.
Little was credited with his first of the year, firing a shot through a screen after hunting the puck down in the slot.
“I really liked our penalty kill and it got better. And I really liked our composure. That’s the key piece to it,” Maurice said. “We’ve had back-to-back nights where we’ve had a run of penalties and didn’t lose our focus and got the kill.
“(The shorthanded goal) was real nice payoff for doing the right things.”
Little sealed it with a power-play marker in the third – a rocket from the line that went off the far post and in – giving the Jets a 3-1 lead at 10:35.
“Bryan’s such an important part of our team,” Maurice said. “Going a couple games without any production, it weighs on him a little bit.
“It was good to get him going.”
Stuart’s empty-netter came with 2:04 to play, sealing the 4-1 victory.
LATE HITS: Ben Chiarot was a late scratch due to injury and is day-to-day according to Maurice. As a result, Adam Pardy saw his first action of 2015-16, playing more than 15 minutes on a pairing with Dustin Byfuglien.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com