I want to start with this stat at the very top so you don’t miss it. When Chris Kreider scored on the power play 11:40 of the third period to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead in what became a 5-3 win over the Blues on Wednesday at the Garden, it marked the 39th goal of the club with the man advantage … and the 37th for which Kreider and the first unit were on the ice.
And the game-clinching goal in that thrilling game that stemmed from Kid K’s deflection of Adam Fox’s drive from the top came 15 seconds after Gerard Gallant called a 1:17 timeout in the power play so that the first unit can breathe quickly and stay on the ice for 2 minutes, or the time it took to score.
Rarely has a team relied on so little with the man advantage. The second unit, as it is, has been on the ice for two PPGs, one on December 1 and the next on December 8. Since then, the first unit has recorded 21 consecutive games.
This can become problematic in the playoffs, when more is demanded of each player in the playoff grind. The Rangers need to add that mysterious top six we’ve been talking about for months to not only make their 5-on-5 game easier, but to allow Gallant to build a credible second unit on the power play.
Can Kaapo Kakko be that player when he returns from what has been revealed as a left wrist injury? Perhaps, as the Finn did well when Artemi Panarin was sidelined with COVID-19 earlier, but chief executive Chris Drury might not want to leave that to chance.
For now, however, the Rangers will ride horses. Until Kreider scored, until the Blueshirts were gifted that five-for-four with 10:08 remaining in regulation time when Colton Parayko skimmed one into the stands from his backhand deep into his own end , there had been a lean power play opportunity that failed at first. Indeed, it extended Rangers’ streak to 0 for 8 over three games.
That’s not enough of an advantage for a team whose singular advantage lies in the power play. Oh, good in the nets too, but that goes without saying every day, doesn’t it? But when given the opportunity, the Rangers seized it on Kreider’s 18th power-play goal and his 35th overall.
The Blues force their opponents to fight for every loose puck. They play a high paced game which is a model for how Rangers want to play. They come back hard. Rangers, under pressure much of the night, reacted very, very well except for a slump that lasted 2:14 late in the second period in which St. Louis scored three of three times shots to erase a 2-0 deficit.
Again, in the playoffs, the Rangers might not be able to overcome that kind of extended time frame, when their coverage on both the rush and on possession has collapsed. But the team regained their composure and poise at intermission after the Blues struck at 5:30, 6:37 and 7:44 of the third. The stunned disbelief turned into a flurry of boos late in the period, with Igor Shesterkin motionless in front of the net until 10 seconds after the buzzer.
Pavel Buchnevich had a few glorious chances, one on a breakaway in the second period and one around the net in the third, denied by Shesterkin each time. By the way, Rangers had all sorts of difficulties holding the line at different points in the game. This is an area that the club must clean.
When Kevin Rooney effectively left the lineup with an unspecified upper body injury he suffered in the first period, Gallant cut his bench. Filip Chytil, who was back in action — well, back in the lineup — finished with 9:04 of ice time on a fourth line with Julien Gauthier on the right and either Greg McKegg or Barclay Goodrow on the left. For the most part, Rangers went with nine forwards in the final 40 minutes. It’s not a recipe for a long run in the playoffs.
But we are not there yet. We are not yet at the March 21 trade deadline either. By the way, it was another good night for Braden Schneider, who worked a few shifts to team up with K’Andre Miller when Jacob Trouba was in the box serving for a major fight at 11:57 of the third. .
There were a few breakdowns. We relied too much on the guys in the marquee. That’s what the Rangers do. But they won. They beat a tough team in a tough game. That’s also what the Rangers do.