By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers didn’t bring their A game on Tuesday night, but were able to find a way to grab two important points before the All-Star break and extend their winning streak to three games.
“I’ve said it before, they can’t all be Picassos,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “This was definitely one of them. This game is about finding ways to win, finding ways to win when you’re not at your best, and that’s what we did.”
Appearing sluggish from the start, the Rangers’ execution was below par. They played down to the level of the mediocre 18-18-9 Ottawa Senators. The Rangers should have been flying after Kevin Hayes camped out in front of net and buried a rebound goal at 9:29 in the second period. Instead, they let the Sens hang around.
Ottawa scored two goals in the span of 63 seconds later in the period and the Rangers heard a fair share of boos as they exited the ice down 2-1 at the second intermission. Fans were irritated at the Rangers for not taking advantage of a 5-on-3 power play late in the period. Having played four games in a space of six days, the Rangers eventually found their skating legs and gutted out a 3-2 overtime victory. That’s what good teams do. They find a way.
Just 2:42 into the third period, winger Chris Kreider turned on the jets to separate from Sens defenseman Jared Cowen. He collected a Marc Staal feed and pulled the Rangers even at 2-2. Kreider was the most dominant Ranger on Tuesday night, testing Ottawa netminder Craig Anderson with seven shots. The speedy 6-foot-3 winger tormented the Sens throughout the night. When the game was over, teammates awarded Kreider the Broadway Hat.
“It’s a big come-from-behind win,” Kreider said. “It was definitely a character win. We probably didn’t have the start we wanted — had a few lulls — but it says a lot about the leadership in the room that we were able to gather ourselves and be ready to play.”
Carl Hagelin proved to be the game-winning hero 2:55 into overtime. Alternate captain Derek Stepan found Hagelin on a flashy, no-look backhand pass, and the Swede redirected the puck past Anderson for the overtime winner.
“He saw me going to net there,” Hagelin said. “We made eye contact right before he got the puck. He’s that type of player. If he knows someone’s open, he’s going to find the stick with the puck. That’s exactly what he did. He made a perfect play. Two D-men stepped up on him, so he just threw a perfect pass to me.
“Not a lot of players in the league can make that pass. We’re very fortunate to have a guy like him, who always finds guys on the ice whether you’re covered or not.”
Every point matters in the packed Metropolitan Division race. The 27-13-4 Rangers are currently in third place, having collected 58 points through 44 games. Just ahead of them are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost 3-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. Pittsburgh has recorded 59 points through 45 games. The Pens will face the Chicago Blackhawks at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday night.
McDONAGH ALREADY LOOKING FORWARD TO NEXT TUESDAY’S CLASH WITH THE ISLES
Once the Rangers return from the All-Star break, their first game will come next Tuesday against the division-leading Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. Captain Ryan McDonagh is already looking forward to the highly anticipated meeting on Long Island. The Isles have won both games between the clubs at MSG this season, outscoring the Rangers 9-3 in the process
“We have a nice little break here to relax, get some good rest, cheer for Rick Nash in Columbus (and) then get ready for another big game against the Islanders on the road,” McDonagh said. “That’s going to be a huge two points. We have to be focused and ready. They played really well there. I’m looking forward to it already.”
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.