— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 12, 2017
The focus heading into tonight’s matchup with the lowly Colorado Avalanche—the NHL’s worst franchise this season—was on getting franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist his 400th victory of his career. By the time the final buzzer sounded, it was one they had little trouble accomplishing despite a few early scares.
Kevin Klein opened the scoring for the Rangers early in the first period, rocketing a point shot past Colorado Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard. Oscar Lindberg won the faceoff at the right circle, kicking the puck back to rookie blueliner Brady Skjei who quickly found Klein at the top of the slot. The lead wouldn’t hold, however, as the Avs managed to tie it up with just 15.2 seconds left in the first period on a Landeskog shot fed by Nathan MacKinnon’s blazing show of speed to open enough room in the Rangers end to find him.
The Rangers out-shot the Avalanche by a 10-5 count after the first period but came out flat for the second period, giving up the go-ahead goal to ex-Ranger John Mitchell on a weak shot from the half boards that Lundqvist simply didn’t pick up on in time. The puck beat the King five-hole, and despite his protests about Jarome Iginla’s net front presence, the Rangers rightfully didn’t challenge the call. They closed the period unable to exit their own end, capping off an unsuccessful middle frame that likely had fans questioning whether tonight was the night for Mr. 400.
Calvin Pickard was beginning to look like the stolen story of the night entering the third period, but Kevin Klein pulled that rug out from under him, scoring his second of the night just 2:50 in, tying the game. As the two teams battled throughout the final period, it was ultimately Rick Nash who put the Rangers ahead off a spectacular centering feed from Derek Stepan that would be all the Rangers needed to hold out for Hank’s historic victory. It wasn’t without some drama, of course, as Lundqvist made numerous spectacular saves late in the period before Kevin Hayes found the empty-net insurance marker at 18:22, sealing Colorado’s fate and the King’s destiny.
The Rangers next game is Monday night at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Assorted musings: Oscar Lindberg had two assists tonight and his sneaky faceoff win that led to Klein’s game-opening tally was an unsung highlight; Mark Barberio probably feels pretty awful going from one of the league’s best (Montréal) to the league’s worst, but boy can he fly on the ice; Adam Clendening appeared to be benched for the final five minutes of the game; Lastly, Lundqvist is now 12th all-time in wins among goaltenders in the NHL with tonight’s victory, his 400th. He should break into the top-ten by the close of the regular season, cementing himself in 9th ahead of Glenn Hall (407) with Tony Esposito’s 423 to look forward to surpassing next season.