The Rangers felt two extremes of emotion Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils. Chris Kreider scored with just over 20 seconds remaining to tie the game, 3-3, but a Ryan Callahan penalty did the Rangers in early in overtime, to give New Jersey the 4-3 overtime win. The Rangers were — again — unable to get themselves two games over .500 for the sixth time this season.
RANGERS THREE STARS
MC: For the second game in a row, my first star was Mats Zuccarello, who capped off his night with a goal and an assist
Left Wing - NYR
Goals: 1 | Assists: 1 | Pts: 2
Shots: 1 | +/-: +2
in 18:58 of ice time. I think some were worried about how he'd perform after being taken off the team's top line, but thus far, it's been a great decision by head coach Alain Vigneault, as Zuccarello has a four-game point streak and multi-point games in four of his last eight contests. He finds himself in the right place at the right time, as evidenced by his goal last night when he buried a long rebound given up by Martin Brodeur. He's playing arguably the best hockey of his career, and now finds himself three points off the team lead of 23.
No. 2 was Brad Richards, who scored on a gorgeous wrist shot that beat Marty high stick side. Brad started his season so hot before dipping a bit, but it certainly seems like he's back to being the player we saw on the West coast. He has a six-game point streak, as well as goals in two straight after a stretch where he scored just once in 11 games. The thing I'm noticing most about Richards is that he's shooting the puck more. He finished last night's game with three shots and another five attempts, and was a plus-2.
My third star goes to Chris Kreider, who knotted the game up in its dying seconds by getting in the dirty area with Ryan Callahan. He picked up a loose puck and swatted it into the cage behind Brodeur, his fifth goal against the future Hall of Famer. Kreider finished the game with three shots on goal and another three attempts in just over 20 minutes.
JC: I'm with you Matt, Mats Zuccarello played a terrific game last night and is in the midst of, perhaps, his best run of play since joining the Rangers. Zucc is playing with so much confidence now, and his work ethic is exemplary. Not only does he provide energy in the offensive zone, where his numbers have been terrific as of late and are overall quite solid on the season, but his willingness to play the 200-foot game has been a pleasant surprise. I'd still like to see him shoot more often, but Zuccarello did not hesitate on burying that rebound early in the second period — his only shot of the game, and third goal in as many games. You can see how much Alain Vigneault is trusting him, too, with a consistent larger role, as evidenced by his near 19 minutes of ice time on Saturday.
I am going to flip Chris Kreider and Brad Richards in my group of stars, making Kreider the No. 2 Star and Richards the Third Star. I just really liked Kreider's energy last night, and he was consistently on the puck and the first Ranger in on the forecheck. He played physically, as well, and was a presence all night. His goal was clutch as he again was willing to go into the tough areas in order to score a goal.
Richards played a very solid game, too, though missing on five of his eight shot attempts was a bit frustrating. Still his goal was a beauty, and he is in the midst of another really strong stretch of hockey right now. Though the Rangers did not score on the power play until Kreider's 6-on-4 goal late, Richards had the power play humming with crisp decisions and pass plays. His consistency this season in all areas of the offensive game has been a big pick me up for the Blueshirts.
RANGERS UNSUNG HERO
MC: Going off the board a bit, but I liked J.T. Miller's game in his first action back after his most recent call up from the Hartford Wolf Pack. He played on a line with Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin, which I thought — without undermining the head coach — better suited him than being used in a fourth-line type role. The reason for that is that Miller certainly has offensive upside and playing alongside a guy like Hagelin who can chase pucks down, and Brassard who is a playmaker, Miller will find himself with more chances to bury pucks. That was evident last night, as he had two shots and another two attempts to go along with two hits and three blocked shots in 11:49 of ice time. He adds more speed to the lineup as well, which is never a bad thing.
JC: I, too, though Miller played very, very well last night, and J.T. was my Unsung Hero, as well. I thought he was extremely active in the defesnive end of the ice, clearly a point of emphasis for him in his return from the minors. He blocked three shots, was credited with a pair of hits, and skated hard repeatedly to make his way back to guard the defensive zone. He was real good offensively, too, with a couple prime scoring chances — one off a 2-on-1 rush in the first period where his shot was denied by Martin Brodeur, and the other in the second period where he ripped a one-timer just wide. Miller played with confidence, poise, and smarts. Now he has to do it again against the Caps on Sunday.
LAST GAME AT MSG FOR MARTY?
MC: While there's no official announcement or plan in place, last night could have been the final time we see Martin Brodeur take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. While there's no doubt there isn't much love loss between the future Hall of Famer netminder and Rangers fans, few could deny how much they've loved facing him over the last 20 years, starting with — in my opinion — the greatest playoff series in NHL history back in 1994. There were certainly some tough years for the Rangers against Brodeur in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but since the 2005 work stoppage, the Rangers have fared pretty well against No. 30 thanks in large part to their own No. 30 in Henrik Lundqvist. If last night was the final time we see Brodeur at Madison Square Garden, I'd like to extend a thank you to him as he's been one of the focal points of one of the best rivalries in not only hockey but all of sports, a lot of fun.
JC: Marty Brodeur has played the role of villain at The Garden for a bunch of years now and will be missed if indeed last night was his final appearance at The World's Most Famous Arena. I will never forget his epic duel with Mike Richter in 1994 — one that was reprised in the spring of 1997 — or his playoff run ins with Sean Avery, among a string of other memories. Plain and simple he is one of the greatest to have ever played his position in the history of this sport, and his success and championships only fueled the Blueshirt Faithful's animosity towards him. To his credit, Brodeur got sort of a last laugh last night, enduring early mock jeers only to turn the contest around with a brilliant pass on New Jersey's first goal and then proceed to hold the Rangers at bay as the Devils rallied for the 4-3 overtime victory.