Rangers dominate Blue Jackets, key test vs. Devils up next
In their first game since they secured a playoff spot, the Rangers took care of business.
That will continue to be the challenge in the eight remaining games of the regular season, but their 6-2 win over the Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night — in which six different Rangers scored goals — was an encouraging start to the club’s final push.
The win teed the Rangers up for their clash with the Devils on Thursday at Prudential Center, in which second place in the Metropolitan Division and possibly home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs will be on the line.
There aren’t that many meaningful games left on the Rangers schedule, but they need to continue raising their level of play in preparation for the playoffs.
“It’s going to be the mental part of it,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said earlier Tuesday of getting up for the final contests of the regular season.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to play. We’re paid to come here and get ready to play and win hockey games. There’s nine games left, you don’t take any games off no matter who you’re playing.”
The Rangers, who were without defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 14th time in the last 15 games, picked up their third win in a row and the seventh in their last eight contests.
Pieces are falling into place. The offense is jelling nicely. Third periods have been a strong point.
Goalie Igor Shesterkin is nearing peak form, which he showed again with 28 saves Tuesday.
The Rangers skated with authority and commanded the ice in the offensive zone for a majority of the game.
Just as quickly as they built a 3-0 lead in the first period, however, the Rangers’ aggressiveness on offense turned into cutting corners on defense. That allowed the Blue Jackets to make it a competitive game with two goals in the span of 7:31 at the end of the first period.
It was automatic for the Rangers within the first eight minutes of the game.
Filip Chytil scored first, cleaning up a rebound around a crowded Blue Jackets net at 5:23 of the first period. Braden Schneider then sent a royal-road pass to Vladimir Tarasenko, who tipped it in for the 2-0 lead just under a minute and half later.
After clanging the puck off the post following a nifty between-the-legs move, Patrick Kane demanded the puck back and ended up sniping one short side on Blue Jackets netminder Michael Hutchinson at the eight-minute mark.
The Rangers have admitted they occasionally are guilty of sitting back, and their looseness in the defensive zone diminished a lot of their strong play this time around.
Kirill Marchenko scored on a power play before Johnny Gaudreau went top corner on Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin to make it a 3-2 game with 28.1 seconds left in the opening frame.
It was Artemi Panarin and the Rangers’ struggling power play that ultimately served as the deciding factor for the home team, who pulled ahead off the Russian wing’s goal with the man advantage at 17:36 of the second period.
The goal counted as the Rangers’ first on the power play in three games, over which they went 0-for-9 with the man advantage.
Panarin later drove the middle, drew Blue Jackets players and then dished to Mika Zibanejad for a wide-open one-timer and a 5-2 lead with just over 5 ½ minutes left in regulation. Vincent Trocheck then capped the scoring with an empty-net goal.
The Rangers did what they were supposed to do to the last-place team in the division.
Closing out this regular season will be a grind, but there will be ample opportunities to continue improving as the Rangers near the time of year they’ve been waiting for.