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Recap: Rangers Make Short Work of Devils

Mika & Quickie Score Shorthanded as Georgie Blanks Jersey

by Michael Obernauer

NEWARK -- This one was special.

During this points streak that reached five games on Saturday afternoon, the Rangers have been finding all kinds of different ways to win hockey games, and in a matinee match with the New Jersey Devils they cooked up an all-new special-teams recipe. The Rangers went 1-for-2 on power plays, and 2-for-8 on Devils power plays, all in support of Alexandar Georgiev's third career shutout in a 4-0 victory at Prudential Center that made it three points out of four from a tough back-to-back set.

The Devils had eight power plays in the game, but Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast were the ones who scored on them, the first time in three seasons the Rangers have potted a pair of shorthanded goals in a game. They came early in the third period, after Adam Fox had opened the scoring off a Kaapo Kakko dish on an early Rangers power play, and before Brady Skjei closed it with an empty-net goal that technically speaking was the game's only score at even strength, but still came while the Devils had five skaters to the Rangers' four, because that's the kind of day it was.

Georgiev made 33 stops for his first shutout of 2019-20, and in all, the Rangers won for the fourth time in their last five games, and improved to 10-4-2 in their last 16. 

"Certainly not the way you draw up winning a hockey game, taking that many penalties and having that many penalty minutes to kill," David Quinn said. "But I'm just so proud of our guys -- we found a way to win and really gutted it out and stood tall on our penalty kill."

"Every game's not going to be perfect," added Jacob Trouba. "That's what makes a team good, finding a way to win games."

Trouba stood as tall as anyone in this game, the Rangers' ice time leader logging just a shade under 24 minutes after playing in Boston the afternoon before, with just over nine of them coming while shorthanded. He finished with two assists in the game, the first on Fox's power-play strike and the next when he started a 3-on-1 shorthanded rush that culminated in Fast's first career shorthanded goal.

"He was huge," Quinn said. "Him and Brady and Libor and Lindgren really did a heck of a job. They obviously ate up a lot of minutes on the penalty kill, but Jacob really did a great job getting out on that flank. They had a hard time getting pucks to the net because of him."

When they did get pucks to the net, Georgiev turned out every one. He made 11 saves in the first, 10 in the second and 12 in the third, including a breakaway stop on Travis Zajac midway through the third and a flying, sprawling follow-up with Blake Coleman leaping on top of him like a nose tackle after a strip sack.

And for all the penalties, the Devils managed to put only seven pucks on his net during their 15 minutes of power-play time; the Rangers finished the game with 11 blocked shots - six of them from Ryan Lindgren alone.

"I think we're getting there," said Zibanejad, whose goal was his second in three games since rejoining the lineup, and the sixth shorthanded of his career. "We've been winning in different ways, and we're finding ways to win."

Georgiev was taking his first start in a week, since last Saturday's wild comeback in Montreal when he gritted through a rough start and stopped 22 of the final 23 shots he saw to allow the Rangers to mount their monumental rally in a 6-5 win. After Saturday, Georgiev has stopped 55 of the last 56 shots he has seen.

This kind of follow-up from Georgiev, Quinn said, was "Big. Big. And he stood tall. When you kill that many penalties your goalie needs to be good, and he was good when he needed to be - even some 5-on-5."

Not that that lasted very long. It was the Devils who took the day's first penalty, Pavel Zacha's holding minor for draping himself on Chris Kreider; Kakko made it count by getting puck from Trouba, twirling away from Nico Hischier atop the left circle and rifling a pass to Fox sneaking down to the backdoor. It was Fox's first career power-play goal, and it also was part of a physical, engaged start from Kakko - who had been shifted onto a line with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome.

Quinn called it "his best game in a while," and if not for all the shorthanded time he would have played more of it. Instead, the Rangers had to kill four penalties in the second period, then face down the remaining 3:26 of Libor Hajek's high-sticking double minor with the score still 1-0 to start the third.

Zibanejad scored on the back end of that one, stepping in front of a Sami Vatanen outlet at the red line and finishing off a perfect 2-on-1 with Brendan Lemieux, who over the course of the last five games has picked up the first shorthanded goal and assist of his career.

Then just after Kreider was handed a major and a game misconduct for boarding Matt Tennyson, Trouba saw Nikita Gusev lose an edge at the left point and attacked, trapping four Devils for a 3-on-1 he kicked wide to Zibanejad, who crossed it over to Fast, who buried it.

By that point, the Devils' frustration was evident. "You can sense it. You know it," Trouba said. "And you don't want to give them any opportunity to feel good about it."

Skjei put a bow on it with 2:42 left, wheeling around his net and lofting one over everybody, hitting the target at the other end. "I was just trying to get it out of the zone," Skjei admitted. "I thought I got it high enough to avoid an icing. I didn't, I iced it. But it went in. Got a little lucky there."

The Rangers will try their luck with Vegas coming to town on Monday night. That will be the Rangers' eighth game in a grueling 13-day span; they are 5-1-1 of the first seven.

"The way we're playing, the way we're trusting our system and the way we're trusting each other right now, it's definitely a good sign," Zibanejad said. "That's what you want from a young team like this."

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