By Sean Hartnett
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The 103-point Rangers leapfrogged the Montreal Canadiens to move into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference following a dramatic 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre on Tuesday night.
With less than four minutes remaining in the third period, J.T. Miller was able to spring Chris Kreider with a tape-to-tape pass for the game-winning goal. Kreider turned on the turbo boosters and blazed past flat-footed Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Bearing down at full speed on goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, Kreider pulled off a backhand deke to score the game-winner and roared while seated in Pavelec’s net.
It was sweet poetic justice for the Rangers after Byfuglien viciously drilled Miller with an unpenalized cross-check at 17:23 of the second period. After Miller fell to the ice, Byfuglien delivered a forceful blow to Miller’s head/neck area.
Miller’s head snapped down violently. Thankfully, Miller escaped serious injury and was able to rise to his feet. The 22-year-old forward skated back to the Rangers bench in obvious pain. Normally, Byfuglein would have been given a five-minute major and a match penalty. There wasn’t even an on-ice meeting between officials.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety will be looking like April Fools if Byfuglien skates away scot-free. It was a clear and obvious attempt to injure by Byfuglien.
Typically composed Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was fuming when he met with reporters after the game.
“Violent. Deliberate,” Vigneault said. “It could have broken his neck. I don’t know what’s going to happen but it was one of the most vicious cross-checks I’ve seen this year.”
The Department of Player Safety reviews incidents on a nightly basis. They will closely examine Byfuglien’s hit. It was as bad of a cross-checking incident as you’re going to see in an 82-game season. Enough with the NHL saying they’re taking head injuries seriously, then failing to hand out tough supplemental discipline. It’s time to get tough. They’d better throw the book at Byfuglien.
LUNDQVIST EARNS FIRST WIN SINCE FEB. 2
Franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves to record his first victory since Feb. 2. Lundqvist had to be sharp early when defenseman Dan Girardi committed an early turnover. The Jets outshot the Rangers 8-0 to begin the game and Lundqvist was under constant fire.
It wasn’t a vintage Lundqvist performance by any means, but it was a step in the right direction. Lundqvist looked far more comfortable than in Saturday’s 4-2 defeat to Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Between now and the end of the regular season, Lundqvist is expected to start five of the Rangers’ six remaining games in an effort to get King Henrik the minutes and reps he requires prior to the playoffs.
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