Alexis Lafreniere massive hit game-changer for Rangers in Game 1 win vs. Capitals

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

There was a fair amount of physicality in the New York Rangers’ Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Statistically, the Rangers had the better of the physical play, recording 31 hits to 20 by the Capitals.

But the most important hit of the game wasn’t delivered by one of the more likely candidates on the ice, like Matt Rempe of New York nor Tom Wilson of Washington.

Instead it was Alexis Lafreniere who delivered a massive hit early in the second period that created a turnover which led directly to a goal scored by Artemi Panarin. And in the process, Lafreniere knocked one of Washington’s defensemen out of the game, further depleting its ravaged defense corps.

For the Rangers, it couldn’t have been more of a win-win scenario. For the Capitals, it just deepened their frustration of what turned out to be a 4-1 series-opening loss.

“It was borderline,” Capitals coach Spender Carbery said about the game-changing Lafreniere hit.

But even the Capitals coach wouldn’t commit to anything more than that since Lafreniere delivered a clean, punishing check. Simply, a really good hockey play.

Related: Rangers Recall: Depth, defense, 5-on-5 scoring in Game 1 win

Alexis Lafreniere delivers game-changing hit in Ranghers’ Game 1 win vs. Capitals

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The play in question occurred on the first shift after Rempe’s goal gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 4:17 into the first period. Capitals defenseman Vincent Iorio had the puck in his own end and was looking down when Lafreniere crushed him with a shoulder-to-shoulder check.

Lafreniere not only separated Iorio from the puck, the Rangers winger quickly took it away and passed back to Vincent Trocheck, who, in turn, swung a pass to Panarin on the right wing. Wide-open, Panarin had time to pick his spot and sniped a shot far side past the glove of Washington goalie Charlie Lindgren at 4:50.

In an eyeblink, a scoreless game was now 2-0 Rangers. Jimmy Vesey scored 1:33 later and the entire scope of Game 1 changed with the Rangers up 3-0 against an offensively-challenged opponent and The Garden absolutely rocking.

“That was a big goal (by Rempe) to put energy in the building, maybe because it was him, too, it put a little more extra juice in the building,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette explained. “Then to get another one right after that, that was a turning point in the game.”

And that turning point was started by Lafreniere’s huge hit, one of five he was credited with Sunday tying him with Jacob Trouba for the team lead.

Carbery said Iorio put “himself in a bad spot.”

“(Iorio) really needs to move the puck quicker there just to get it out of his hands, and then he hangs onto it and (Lafreniere) wallops him,” Carbery explained.

Iorio left the ice holding his shoulder and didn’t return. He’s being reevaluated Monday. The Capitals are already without veteran defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Nick Jensen, neither of whom played in Game 1 because of an upper-body injury.

The Capitals are expected to be the more physical team in this series, but the Rangers, and specifically Lafreniere, had something to say about that in Game 1. Braden Schneider showed some grit late, getting into it with Wilson after the Capitals forward had barged into Igor Shesterklin’s crease. And rookie Will Cuylle drew the ire of Washington defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk with his aggressive play at the end of the second period, as well.

“It’s the playoffs, it’s competitive out there,” Laviolette said. “They’re gonna be physical and we’re going to try and do the same. There’s going to be emotion between the two teams. I didn’t think anything was really out of line with that.”

Wilson was relatively quiet. The Rangers nemesis was credited with two hits in 20:26 worth of ice time before he and Schneider received 10-minute miscounducts with one minute remaining in the game.

“You’re expected to finish your checks this time of year,” Wilson said. “I think we could do a little bit more of that. I think the first period teams are feeling each other out a little bit. That being said, it’s playoff time. Guys are expected to get hit. You’re expecting guys to give hits.” 

And the biggest hit of Game 1 was delivered by Alexis Lafreniere.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

Mentioned in this article:

More About: