It was the best of games, it was the worst of games. Well, the order of those first two sentences really depends on which team’s perspective you’re looking from. Regardless of which way you look at it, though, last night’s game between the New York Rangers and the Minnesota Wild was about as wild as they come in the NHL. For the Rangers, it was a night to remember as they staged their second come-from-behind win in three games. For the Wild, a night to forget.
For forty minutes of Monday night’s contest, the Rangers looked lost. They were undisciplined, unable to execute, and appeared to forget that they were playing competitive sport. The Wild exploited that for a while, but not for long enough.
A Tale of Two Games
The first period of Monday’s match-up between the Wild and the Rangers was fairly quiet. Some scoring chances here and there, and a couple penalties on the part of the Rangers, but overall nothing out of the ordinary. That was until Chris Kreider sent Jonas Brodin flying into the boards head-first from the goal-line with just 16 seconds to go in the first period.
Kreider, who was issued a five-minute major penalty for boarding, was also given a game-misconduct for the hit on Brodin. Alain Vigneault, who had mixed up the Rangers’ offensive lines prior to the tilt with Minnesota, had played Kreider alongside Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard. Suddenly the coach had some line scrambling to deal with.
The Rangers headed into the second period in desperate need of a big effort from their penalty killing units, and they got just that. However, 45 seconds after New York finished killing off the Kreider major, Nate Prosser tipped a Justin Fontaine feed past Henrik Lundqvist, giving the Wild the 1-0 lead.
A mere 55 seconds later, Justin Fontaine sent another pass across, but this time it was Matt Cooke who made the tip, which again got by Lundqvist. Suddenly the Rangers, who had just killed off a big penalty, found themselves trailing by two in front of an increasingly restless Madison Square Garden crowd.
From Bad to Worse For NY
Only 48 seconds after the Cooke goal, Erik Haula received a jarring elbow to the head, courtesy of John Moore. Moore was issued a five-minute major, and just like Kreider, he was immediately escorted off the ice and given a game-misconduct.
The Rangers’ goal deficit and game-misconduct tallies had now both reached two. Things weren’t going the way the Blueshirts had intended.
While Kreider and Moore were both issued game-misconducts, the general feeling among fans and reporters watching the game was that Kreider’s hit could go either way with regards to a suspension, but Moore’s will, almost without question, result in a suspension.
As was the case with their first three power plays of the game, the Wild were unable to make the Rangers pay for their lack of discipline. But even after failing to convert on its second five-minute power play of the game, Minnesota still led the game 2-0.
Then at 15:38 of the second period, Minnesota extended its lead even further when Jason Pominville beat Lundqvist on a quick snap shot to put the Wild up by three.
It seemed that the Wild could do no wrong, while nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – could go right for the Rangers. The game had Minnesota blowout written all over it.
Just in case you need a quick refresher on how the night had gone up to this point here’s a brief recap of the first two periods: The Blueshirts had lost Chris Kreider and John Moore to game-misconducts. The new line combinations put together by Alain Vigneault weren’t clicking, they trailed 3-0, spent 14 minutes on the penalty kill, and were being outshot by the Wild 24-8.
End of two periods, Wild lead 3-0 and up on shots 24-8. Rangers booed off ice. Pretty much a mess at the moment.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) October 28, 2014
The Rangers were unsurprisingly booed off the ice when they headed for the locker room for the second intermission. For New York, it was about as bad as it could’ve been. It was definitely the worst of games.
The Turning of the Tide – 61-16-36 Lead the Way
Then the third period began, and it quickly became apparent that something had happened behind closed doors in the Ranger locker room. Desperate to find the spark to start a rally, the Rangers caught a break when Kevin Klein ripped a seeing-eye shot that found its way through traffic and beat the red-hot Minnesota goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who, prior to last night, had only allowed four goals in five games. Rick Nash set the play by making a strong move along the boards to get the puck to Zuccarello. Zuccarello then fed a pass up to Klein who found the back of the net for the second time this week. The Rangers were within two, which given the first 40 minutes they had played, was nothing short of miraculous.
Just under two minutes after Klein put the Rangers on the scoreboard, Rick Nash continued to lead the charge, netting his league-leading ninth goal of the season, as he found the rebound of a Matt Hunwick point shot and slid it past the right leg pad of Kuemper. The Rangers were within one, and Madison Square Garden came alive.
But just when it seemed like the ice was starting to tilt in the Rangers favor, the Wild struck back 47 seconds later to put the Wild back up by two, halting New York’s momentum in its tracks. Jason Zucker was credited the goal as he deflected a Nino Niederreiter shot through Henrik Lundqvist. Whatever wind the Rangers had in their sails was gone in an instant, and any thoughts of a Wild meltdown were silenced. At least that was the case for another two or so minutes.
The Rangers again pulled back within one at the 7:54 mark of the third period, when Derick Brassard found the rebound of Carl Hagelin’s shot that rang off the cross bar and fell straight down into the crease. Brassard beat Keumper to the loose puck, and punched it into the net to keep New York’s hopes alive. The Rangers team that headed to the locker room after the second period trailing 3-0 had vanished, and the Black & Blueshirts had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
Things proceeded to quiet down for the next eight minutes. That was until The Duke’s time finally arrived.
In a rush down the ice that few 19-year-olds are capable of pulling off in the NHL, Rangers rookie Anthony Duclair took a Matt Hunwick pass in stride and raced down the far boards. When he reached the far right circle, the winger ripped a shot on net. Darcy Keumper got most of the shot, but not enough, as the puck found its way through him and into the goal. Anthony Duclair, who made the team straight out of training camp, had his first NHL goal, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for New York.
The Rangers, who spent the first half of the game on their heels, killing off penalty after penalty, losing both Kreider and Moore to game-misconducts, getting badly outplayed and outshot, and trailing at one point by three goals, had clawed their way back and tied the game. As for the Wild, the meltdown was all but complete. Minnesota was barely hanging on, trying to survive until overtime. But the Rangers could smell blood. It was an offensive onslaught, of which there was no stopping.
Meltdown Complete-Comeback Accomplished
It took only 37 seconds for the Rangers to officially complete the comeback and finalize the Minnesota Meltdown. With just 3:11 left on the clock the Brassard-Zuccarello magic which emerged last season, made a dramatic return when Derick Brassard fed Mats Zuccarello a perfect pass from behind the net. Zuccarello made no mistake and buried the puck behind Kuemper. For the first time of the turbulent night for New York, the Rangers led the Wild 5-4. The score never deviated from that.
Zuccarello, who before Monday hadn’t yet found the back of the net this season, spoke earlier this week about his lack of productivity. It was only a matter of time before he broke out with a big game. That time was last night, as he registered a goal (his first of the season) and two assists in the Rangers’ come-from-behind victory against the Wild.
The goal for Zuccarello was also the 31st of his career, making him the all-time scoring leader among Norwegian born NHL players.
For the Rangers, it was the worst of games, it was the best of games, and it was an historic game. According to Elias Sports Bureau it was only the third time in Rangers history that they’ve overcome a three goal deficit in the third period to win. The last time that happened was February 21, 1992 against, go figure, the Minnesota North Stars. However, the already injury-laden Rangers now must face down the very real possibility of playing without both Chris Kreider and John Moore for a still-unknown amount of time, as further disciplinary action could very well come their way from the NHL’s department of player safety.
For the Wild, it had been over 10 years since the last time they’d allowed five goals in a single period. And despite how well the first 40 minutes went, Minnesota was still 0-for-4 on the power play (with two five-minute majors) and are now 0-for-24 on the season, ranked dead last in the NHL. Last night surely turned into a night to forget.
Whichever way you look at it, last night’s Rangers-Wild game was, well, wild. The Rangers showed what anger and frustration can produce in five third period goals, and the Wild put on display what relaxation and complacency can do within the course of an NHL game.
As the saying goes in hockey, a two-goal lead is dangerous, but a three-goal lead is the most dangerous. Last night in New York was no exception.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.