It would have been a damn good reason never to have a pregame ceremony again, considering the New York Rangers fell behind 2-0 to the Phoenix Coyotes following a tribute to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s recent franchise records.
But the Rangers and Lundqvist regrouped after an abysmal first period, filling the emotional void that was lacking in the first 20 minutes of play and recovering to knock off the Coyotes for their fourth consecutive win.
The 4-3 overtime victory, sealed by defenseman Ryan McDonagh’s rebound goal 1:56 into OT, moved the Rangers past the Philadelphia Flyers and into second place in the Metropolitan Division standings. It also showed the type of mental fortitude this team will need down the stretch with the playoffs looming.
“It just got dead for a good 10 minutes,” alternate captain Brad Richards said of the team’s drained emotions after Lundqvist’s ceremony. “I don’t know if it was a lull or what happened there, but the building was quiet and when it’s quiet you’ve got to create your own [energy].
“It just creates that atmosphere where it’s on us to create that momentum and get the crowd back in it. And we eventually did that,” Richards continued. “That was a great point. Before Christmas, I think we probably would’ve gone the other way and lose that game by three or four.”
The Rangers didn’t surrender, though, despite a feeble first-period effort. With goals from Richards and Derick Brassard, the Rangers erased a 2-0 deficit. With Thomas Greiss in goal to replace an injured Mike Smith, the Rangers knotted the score again in the third on Dan Girardi’s tying goal with 3:28 remaining in regulation.
And the Blueshirts’ blue line came up big again in overtime as McDonagh notched the winner, his 13th goal of the season.
“In a game where it was pretty ugly in the first period and we weren’t playing with that pace we are accustomed to, and that we need, [we] slowly but surely got our groove going,” McDonagh said. “We continued to create offensive chances, wear them down, and find a way to tie it up late and get one in overtime, so it’s a great effort by everyone.”
Coach Alain Vigneault was pleased that his team displayed pluck in fighting back into the game, rather than rolling over and ceding a critical two points. The Rangers now lead the Flyers by one point heading into Wednesday’s match between the two division rivals, though the Flyers have a game in hand.
“Says a lot about our group,” Vigneault said.
A loss may have also robbed Lundqvist of reflecting positively on what he called a “one-in-a-lifetime experience” in his pregame ceremony. The 32-year-old netminder was recognized in front of a home crowd for breaking both Mike Richter’s all-time wins record and Eddie Giacomin’s shutout record last week.
With a win safely secure, he can breathe easy about the way the team responded after that temporary distraction.
“Again, we responded the right way in the third. That’s a sign of us being focused on the right things and what we need to do,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a great feeling.”