Alexis Lafreniere electrifies Garden to lead comeback win over Blue Jackets

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardiac New York Rangers strike again, with Alexis Lafreniere being the ring leader. The former first overall pick scored twice, including the tying goal with 11 seconds left in regulation, and a silky smooth backhand winner in the shootout to give the Rangers a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Sunday was the Blueshirts’ third consecutive win, and ninth win in its last 10 games, improving their record to 11-2-1. They’ve also extended their point streak to 10 games (9-0-1)

“It was a good hard, fought win,” Peter Laviolette said. “It came down to the last few seconds where we were able to tie it and win it in the shootout.”

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New York Rangers 4 vs Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (SO)

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the hectic end to the game, the contest had the feel of a Sunday night game in November. There was not a ton of energy and excitement in the building or on the ice, for most of the first period. Early in the frame, the Rangers got a great opportunity with a 2-on-1 involving Blake Wheeler and Chris Kreider, who was unable to get a clean shot off. This line was the most noticeable on the ice for New York in the opening frame.

Still, early in the first, it’s Kreider and Wheeler creating another great scoring chance on a 3-on-2 with K’Andre Miller. Miller would let go of a good shot that Elvis Merzlikins made a good save on. The Rangers first shot of the night was a good one, and Merzlikins was up to the task.

This is where the momentum would be shifted. Alexander Texier would get a great chance on his former teammate Jonathan Quick, who went post to post, robbing Texier. A few moments later, Columbus would create another odd-man rush. A nifty pass would find Kirill Marchenko, who was robbed with the left pad by Quick, as he dragged the puck from left to right. Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette was not happy with the defensive lapses early in the game, according to John Giannone on the broadcast. 

Erik Gustafsson and Artemi Panarin continued to look dangerous. Later in the first, the two started the rush up the ice before Panarin found Vincent Trocheck who fired it off the outside of the post.

Three-quarters of the way through the period, Jacob Trouba laid his first big hit of the season on Marchenko. The hit would draw a crowd causing Adam Fantilli, of all people, to challenge Trouba. Somehow, Trouba is the only one to get a penalty on the play. Rangers broadcaster Sam Rosen seemed really irked by the call. The Rangers would kill the penalty.

Soon after the penalty expired, Justin Danforth would be the beneficiary of a shot from a tough angle coming off the stick of Erik Gudbranson. Danforth would tip the bad-angle shot off the far post and past Jonathan Quick. It had been a very low-energy game from the Rangers to this point and the Blue Jackets capitalized with a 1-0 lead late in the period.

The Rangers answered right back. 2:20 later, Mika Zibanejad would make a great play to start the breakout. His pass led Blake Wheeler on the rush who dropped a pass to Erik Gustafsson who would feed the eventual goal scorer, Chris Kreider, rifling home his 10th of the season. After a lackluster start, the Rangers got back even, heading into the first intermission.

In back-to-back games, the Rangers were dominated in the second period. Through the first four minutes of the period, the Blue Jackets outshot the Rangers 6-0, with two or three good scoring chances. Quick had to be good and answered the Blue Jackets barrage. Every puck battle and every retrieval was won by Columbus for the majority of the period. The Rangers were scrambling in their own zone causing Justin Danforth to get his second chance of the game right in front of Jonathan Quick who answered the bell again.

Despite all the push from Columbus, the Rangers would get their first powerplay of the game after Dmitri Voronkov trips up Vincent Trocheck, putting the Rangers up a man. New York would come to life on their power play, Panarin, Zibanejad, and Kreider all with great opportunities that either missed the net or Merzlikins made a save.

After the power play ended, the Rangers continued to come to life and Alexis Lafreniere’s hot start to the season continued. It started with great work by Vincent Trocheck forcing a turnover in the neutral zone and he would float a gorgeous pass to Lafreniere who buries the shot to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. On the goal, Artemi Panarin ties Mr. Ranger, Rod Gilbert with points in 14 straight games to start the season.

Just like the Rangers answered Columbus’ goal in the first, the Blue Jackets answered the Rangers in the second. A bad bounce in the neutral zone lands on the stick of Adam Fantilli who unleashed his lethal shot and beat Quick to even the game at two.

The Jackets would strike again. And almost instantly. After an icing, the Rangers are unable to get out of their zone again, and a shot from Alexander Texier wasn’t handled by Quick, and Sean Kuraly bangs home the rebound. Two goals 19 seconds apart gave Columbus the lead 3-2. It didn’t end there either. Columbus would continue to dominate the period. Jack Roslivic would get a great chance off the rush that was saved by Quick, and a rebound chance would be shot wide by Cole Sillenger. The Rangers were brutal in the second period, arguably worse than they were against Minnesota.

But this is where the strangeness begins. With 1:37 left in the second period, Will Cuylle fired a puck on the net from a bad angle and it snuck past Merzlikins and over the goal line. But after an extremely lengthy review, the officials determined that play should have been frozen and disallowed the goal. 

The period wouldn’t end without some fireworks. In the final 30 seconds of the period, Jonathan Quick would keep the Rangers in the game by making a sprawling save off a Jack Roslivic shot. The Rangers were outworked heavily through 40 minutes and would trail 3-2 at the intermission.

Early in the period, Sean Kuraly took a run at Ryan Lindgren and he was slow to get up. He would go straight to the Rangers locker room and not return for the rest of the night. Kuraly was given a 5-minute major for boarding but after a review, the call was reduced to a two-minute penalty. Kuraly was challenged by Nick Bonino after the hit and both went to the box for roughing. 

According to coach Laviolette, Lindgren is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and will be reevaluated.

On the ensuing power play, Panarin would get a stick up high and the Rangers have a 2-man advantage for just over a minute. The Bluehsirts would get their chances on the two-man advantage but were unable to beat Merzlikins. A golden opportunity to tie the game would go by the wayside.

Will Cuylle was noticeable all night. He would take the puck and drive hard to the net before being stopped by Merzlikins. The Rangers dominated the first half of the period but have been unable to beat the Latvian netminder.

With 11 seconds left in regulation, Panarin would wire a shot that did not get to the goal, but Chris Kreider would find Alexis Lafreniere who stuffed home the tying goal and sending the game to overtime. The Cardiac Rangers struck again to keep their point streak alive.

“He’s playing hockey,” Zibanejad said of Lafreniere. “He’s balling out there right now. It’s really fun to see.”

In overtime, Zibanejad would feed Erik Gustafsson, and Gustafsson wired it off the nearside post. Inches away from ending the game.

Both teams traded odd-man rushes in the overtime but both goaltenders and defenders stood on their heads and the game would head to the shootout.

In the shootout, Alexis Lafreniere would prove to be the difference yet again. Lafreniere would snipe a silky backhand over the glove of Merzlikins and the Rangers escape a game in which they didn’t play well for 40 minutes with a win.

“I really didn’t know what to do,” Alexis said of his shootout winner. “I just tried to get close to the goalie to see what’s open and score a goal.”

The Rangers will now have five days off before they travel to Newark in a rematch of their first-round series with the Devils.

Rangers Notes

  • Jonathan Quick stopped 25 of 28 shots, and all three shootout attempts for the win
  • Alexis Lafreniere notched two goals and the shootout winner
  • Artemi Panarin ties Rod Gilbert for longest streak to open a season at 14 games
  • Mika Zibanejad was a +1 in his 500th NHL game
  • Erik Gustafsson extends his points streak to 4 games (3 goals, 7 assists)
  • Chris Kreider scored his 10th goal of the season, which leads the team.

The Rangers are scheduled to practice on Monday at 12 p.m. ET. Their next game is next Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. at 7 p.m. ET.

Steven Pappas is a North Jersey native who works as a news anchor and reporter at WHAM-13 in Rochester,... More about Steven Pappas

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