By Sean Hartnett
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Is the glass half full or half empty for the Rangers? On the surface, gaining three of four possible points from a tough back-to-back against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings seems like a job well done.
But there are some fans out there who are pointing to the Rangers blowing multiple leads against the Kings late Thursday night as a sign of fragility. They have been lamenting Keith Yandle’s bad icing in overtime that led to Anze Kopitar winning an offensive zone faceoff cleanly against Derick Brassard, and then scoring the winning goal on a tip in.
The thing is, the Rangers wouldn’t have been in that position if not for a horrendous non-call late in regulation. Los Angeles tied the game with 4:10 left in the third period in the most controversial fashion. Henrik Lundqvist did not stand any chance of doing his job. Kings forward Tyler Toffoli had both feet planted in the blue paint, prohibiting Lundqvist from stepping up and challenging the shooter.
It seems that every referee has their own definition of what constitutes goaltender interference and there isn’t a clearly defined way of how refs interpret and make the on-ice call. Furthermore, the video evidence was pretty indisputable that the goal shouldn’t have counted. Yet, in a bizarre explanation given to the media it was ruled that Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh had pushed Toffoli into the crease.
From the NHL: “The actions of New York’s Ryan McDonagh caused Los Angeles’ Tyler Toffoli to contact Lundqvist before the puck crossed the goal line.”
Aside from the sour ending and painful reminders of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers proved on consecutive nights they could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with two big-bodied Western Conference juggernauts. Lost in all the controversy is how well Derek Stepan fared against the Kopitar line. The Rangers outchanced the Kings 8-5 when Stepan and Kopitar were both on the ice.
Also lost in the ending is how well J.T. Miller played. Miller was a freight train on ice, using his constantly churning legs and physicality to be a difference-maker. He fired a beauty of a wrister past Jonathan Quick in the first period, and the 23-year-old finished the night with a goal, an assist, two two hits and a plus-2 rating. That’s what’s known as filling up the stat sheet.
This is why nobody should have raised an eyebrow when Miller was selected as one of the first 16 players for North America’s 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster. This is a player who has a lot of polish to his game at a tender age. Given his skating ability, grittiness and strength, Miller is on track to become a special player.
All in all, the Rangers were the better team in the majority of six periods against two loaded foes in the Ducks and Kings. With one more game remaining on the West Coast swing — Saturday against the Sharks — the Rangers could return home in good shape ahead of Monday’s enticing matchup against the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey