Henrik Lundqvist has always talked about focusing on the process and the journey rather than the outcome. Mika Zibanejad begs to disagree.
“I feel like the year is going by quickly, but we still have almost half the season to play,” Zibanejad said after Thursday’s dramatic overtime win over Dallas. “I think we’ve had more rebounds now because we’re working hard to earn them and doing more good things.
“But I said it about a month ago and it’s still true. It’s not about playing well to create good habits. It’s not the most important thing. You want to play well, well sure, but for me the only important thing is to win the game and get two points. That’s how close it is.
Back at the Garden on Sunday against Montreal, the Rangers didn’t play particularly well. They were largely outplayed by their 27th overall opponents.
More importantly, according to Zibanejad, they didn’t win, losing this one 2-1 to undo the impact of Thursday’s mini-miracle triumph.
The score was tied at 1-1 after a second period in which Artemi Panarin scored from a delayed penalty at 16:03, canceling out Kirby Dach’s power play goal at 4:54. Rangers had rarely initiated the first 40 minutes.
And they paid the price for it in the third period, with Cole Caufield scoring at 8:56 and Sam Montembeault making 38 saves to send the Blueshirts to just their third loss (13-3-2) in the last 18 games and keep their cushion in seven-point playoffs.
Head coach Gerard Gallant’s choice to go with Igor Shesterkin in net on that back-to-back attack that ends in Columbus on Monday proved inspired. Shesterkin repelled five Grade A chances in the first half, starting with Cole Caufield’s left wing run towards the net just 45 seconds into the game. Shesterkin’s most acrobatic save against first-overall Juraj Slavkovsky , a little less than 10 minutes after the start of the match. The goalkeeper was exceptional throughout the game.
The Canadiens had few illusions at the start of the season following a particularly ugly crash-and-burn last season that cost general manager Marc Bergevin his job. Enter Jeff Gorton, who had designed the reconstruction in New York, as vice president of hockey operations and soon after, Kent Hughes as general manager and Martin St. Louis as coach.
And indeed, without necessarily trying, it seemed that Montreal would be in first position in the lottery to trap Connor Bedard. But the Canadians, perhaps performing out of the gate as an extension of their coach’s overachieving personality, were a surprisingly creditable 14-12-2 on the morning of December 2.
Even a brutal stabilization that brought the club to the garden with three wins in their immediately preceding 15 games (3-11-1), was not enough to move the Canadians an equal distance from the Columbus-Anaheim-Chicago triumvirate. which controls the major lottery positions.
The Habs – 27th overall, nine points better than the cellar Jackets – will only have to rely on the magic of Gorton to materialize a third time during the ping-pong extravaganza as he l did in 2019, when the Blueshirts went from sixth to second to nab Kaapo Kakko, and again the next, when the team emerged from the 24-team bubble tournament for the first overall selection that yielded Alexis Lafrenière.
Lafrenière, meanwhile, was on the left for the second straight game in the absence of Chris Kreider along with Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko. The unit, which was originally untouched for a 10-period streak at the start of this run, got 14:34 of ice in Thursday’s dramatic 2-1 overtime win over the Stars with a shooting of 77.78 and 56.72 xG.
New York Post