NYR 4, SJS 5 (OT): Powerful Comeback Helps Rangers Clinch Playoff Berth

SJS 5, NYR 4
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While most of their East Coast fans probably went to sleep before the Rangers’ (96 points) closed out their road trip on the West Coast against the Sharks (91 points) because of the late start, the Blueshirts seemed to be sleepwalking at puck drop on Tuesday night. But after falling behind 3-1 and looking lethargic early, the power play came alive and the Rangers forced overtime before San Jose got the 5-4 win in extra time.

JT Miller, who was demoted to the fourth line at the start of the game, had just one assist in five previous games and hadn’t been impactful otherwise of late. He recognized his own struggles, and admitted as much after the game.

“No excuses. I wasn’t playing the right way for a while there.”

But Miller has always responded well when Alain Vigneault has challenged him, and he was the Blueshirts’ best skater tonight. His goal with the man advantage in the third period was his second of the night and gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead. With 22 goals, he’s tied last season’s career high and is third on the team in goals.

His first goal of the game highlighted how he can be most effective as he created a turnover and used his lethal wrist shot – which he’s used a lot more of late – to score.

While Miller was great all night, it wasn’t until the two-goal third period that the Rangers seemed to find their legs. Assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom mentioned before the start of the third period that the team’s discussion at intermission was short and sweet; something to the effect of “One point and we’re in the playoffs!” In response, New York opened the period with plenty of jump and controlled play for the first time in the game to complete the comeback and work to overtime.

Unfortunately, the Rangers were sloppy in their own zone for most of the night. Henrik Lundqvist didn’t look particularly comfortable and was outwardly disappointed after the game but, really, the defense did him no favors. Coverage was lackadaisical and with little sustained offensive pressure, the Sharks had a frenzy at Hank’s goal crease. Through two periods, San Jose owned a 23-14 shot advantage and finished with a 35-28 edge.

At the end of the night (beginning of the day?), the Blueshirts did enough to clinch their seventh-straight postseason appearance. The California trip wasn’t pretty, but the Rangers’ 1-1-1 record got that job done. Clinching the first wild card position is now inevitable and the key for New York will be resting a few guys and playing the right way to build some momentum heading into the playoffs.

The Rangers have two days off before hosting the Penguins on Friday.

Notes: Brady Skjei had three assists and is now fourth on the team; Derek Stepan has scored a goal in three-straight games; The Rangers scored twice on the man advantage and have 10 power play goals in their last 10 games; Lundqvist made 30 saves on 35 shots; This year will be New York’s 11th trip to the playoffs in the last 12 years; Vigneault has made the playoffs every year as the Rangers’ coach.

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