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Recap: The Kids Are Alright

Chytil's Return, Fox's First Push Blueshirts Past Bolts

by Michael Obernauer

Over the course of their 93 seasons, the Rangers have played 6,444 games in the regular season. In only three of them have this many of them been this young.

But when the Rangers lined up against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night with seven players in their lineup age 21 or younger, young or not they were a team in need of a bounceback performance on home ice, and forced to pursue one without their No. 1 center in the lineup against last season's Presidents' Trophy winners.

And so the kids went out and took care of business.

Filip Chytil had a dream return to the Rangers, the 20-year-old center scoring the tiebreaking goal with 7:14 left in his season debut and propelling the Blueshirts to a 4-1 win over the Lightning at an electric Madison Square Garden. It was the Blueshirts' second victory in three games, and it wrapped up a five-game homestand in style.

Down 1-0 at first intermission, the Rangers strung together four unanswered goals, three of them in the final eight minutes of the game. Kaapo Kakko, 18 years old, drew the Rangers even in the second period with his second career goal, and Adam Fox, 21, scored his first goal in the NHL to provide insurance, on a play set up in part by Ryan Lindgren, 21, who in his sixth NHL game went home with his first NHL assist. On the same goal.

Chytil and Lindgren had been called up from Hartford on Monday afternoon and were making their 2019-20 debuts with the Blueshirts - making it seven players 21-and-under for the first time since Dec. 16, 1976, at Buffalo, and just the third time overall. It would hard to imagine those debuts going much better.

"That's something you play hockey for, winning games," Chytil said "It's so nice to be back here in this arena and to win the game."

David Quinn, who had Chytil for 75 games a season ago, said his young centerman "stepped in tonight and I thought probably had his best NHL game."

"A whole different Fil," the Head Coach said. "We saw flashes of it last year, but you know, the guy turned 20 this past September. His battle level was so much higher, he was on the right side of the play, there wasn't much cheating in his game, if any at all."

He added: "That line was good tonight. That line was really good tonight."

That line was Chytil centering Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich, having specifically been summoned from Hartford to fill in for Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers' leading scorer who remains day-to-day after suffering an upper-body injury during Sunday's game against Boston. Zibanejad was the only Ranger to play in all 82 games last season, and until Tuesday night had played in 106 straight since March 8, 2018.

In fact, Quinn had never coached a game for the Rangers with Zibanejad not in the lineup, so perhaps he wasn't sure what to expect in a game in which the Rangers were without their top center and the Lightning lost 2018 Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman to a lower body injury late in the first period.

But by the time the night was over, Quinn knew what he had got.

"We were certainly more engaged. We embraced the battle," Quinn said. "And once that happens, you start rolling, you get a chance. I thought we did it for 60 minutes."

They were behind after one only because of one slip-up when five exhausted Rangers went all together to the bench, and Brayden Point attacked the open ice and set up Nikita Kucherov with a slam dunk 15:44 in. More than that, though, the Rangers were behind because of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who finished this game with 38 saves and kept it close right up until the Rangers pulled away late.

And in the end Vasilevskiy was bested by Alexandar Georgiev, who stopped 29 shots - including the last 21 in a row - to win for the second time this year.

Georgiev is 23 years old; Buchnevich, who set up the game-winner, is 24. And Ryan Strome, though he has more than 400 NHL games under his belt, is still just 26. Strome had a goal and an assist and did as much filling in for Zibanejad's absence as anyone, playing 22:20, winning 17 of 29 draws and pushing his points streak to five games, matching his career high.

Strome closed the scoring into an empty net, and also set up Kakko for the Rangers' first goal 9:37 into the second, which caromed in off a Tampa skate. Artemi Panarin picked up the other assist, making it 10 points in his 10 games as a Ranger.

Chytil's winner came with 7:14 left and almost out of nowhere: The Rangers had been peppering Vasilevskiy's net from close range in the third, but what it took to beat him was the softest of touches, Chytil reaching out to get any kind of touch on Buchnevich's lead pass into the middle, and beat Vasilevskiy with the change of direction.

"I was on the same line with the defender, so I was just trying to get there with my stick, with my body behind them," Chytil said. "And Buchie hit my stick."

Fox then provided the insurance with 2:36 left, trailing the play on a three-man rush on which Kreider took a shot from the right wing that was designed to produce a rebound. It did, and Fox buried it.

"It was awesome. A lot of emotions," said Fox, the Long Island kid and lifelong Ranger fan who now has collected his first goal and assist in the NHL at Madison Square Garden. "I have some family and friends here tonight, and for them to be here for that was definitely special."

"I thought he was outstanding tonight," Quinn said of his rookie blueliner, who partnered with Lindgren. "And we're not playing the Sisters of the Poor either, you know. We're playing the Lightning."

That Lightning team dropped the opener of a long road trip through New York and Europe, while the Rangers wrapped up their longest homestand of the season. They have three days in between this one and Saturday afternoon's match in Nashville, which Quinn was hopeful would be enough time for Zibanejad to be ready.

But in his absence on this night, it was Chytil who stepped in, and it was the Rangers' kids who stepped up.

"The goal, that was a great feeling. And I think the better feeling is that we won the game," Chytil said. "It feels really good to have this."

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