With so many familiar faces on both sides of what is turning out to be an unexpected but captivating rivalry, Friday night’s 3-1 Rangers win was an emotional, fireworks-filled slugfest between two teams clawing and scratching to remain in the playoff race.
Rick Nash was held off the score sheet in his long-awaited return to Columbus, but he provided plenty of action by engaging Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky in one particularly heated scuffle and then dropping the gloves against Matt Calvert to start the third period in perhaps his most fiery performance as a Ranger.
His fellow former Blue Jackets took care of the rest. Derick Brassard followed up a two-goal performance in Ottawa Tuesday with a go-ahead goal in the third period while Anton Stralman chipped in with two assists.
With their second consecutive win, the Rangers swapped spots with the Blue Jackets to take third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Rough stuff: Sparks were flying practically from the time the puck was dropped and the first-period enmity carried over into a chippy second period that culminated with a 5-on-5 fracas after Nash collided with Bobrovsky on a scoring attempt that was ultimately waived off because of incidental goaltender interference. After the play, Bobrovsky swatted Nash’s stick aside and Nash wasn’t too happy with the gesture, delivering a swift crosscheck to Bobrovsky’s throat as teammates from both sides jumped into the fray. Part of the emotional outburst may have been frustration on the Rangers’ part; the Blueshirts dominated the middle frame but couldn’t solve Bobrovsky, despite outshooting the Jackets by a 12-6 margin.
Tough loss: The Rangers were forced to play with five defensemen with John Moore missing the third period. Moore was rocked by a big hit from former Islander Blake Comeau in the first period, and though he returned after the blow, he did not appear after the second period. Good thing for the Rangers that they have depth defenseman Raphael Diaz waiting in the wings. The Rangers acquired the 28-year-old Diaz at the trade deadline from the Vancouver Canucks. The Rangers are Diaz’s third team this season.
Up next: There won’t be any time for rest or reflection as the Rangers enter hostile territory for a bitter divisional clash with their Hudson River rivals, the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are coming off an emotional 4-3 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild Thursday night in what was former captain Zach Parise’s first visit back to New Jersey since signing with his hometown club as an unrestricted free agent in July of 2012. According to Sportsclubstats.com, the Devils have only a 21.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, but they’re aiming to keep their postseason hopes alive with a win against the Rangers.