It’s easy to take the Flames lightly.
They come from a faraway place with some strange-sounding player names such as Jyrki Jokipakka. And, no matter how you shake it, Calgary does not have any Big-Apple pizazz.
Yet this hockey team from Alberta commands respect. Coached by the relatively obscure Glen Gulutzan, the Flames are a legitimate playoff contender.
What’s more, they arrived at The Garden on Sunday afternoon after an impressive win in New Jersey.
The trick against Calgary was to break a 1-1 tie after two periods and bust the game open in the final frame. This was no easy task against The Flames tight “road game” blueprint.
It became even more dicey after the Flames rallied from Michael Grabner’s go-ahead (2-1) goal to tie it at two in the third.
The encore next was provided by the inimitable Chris Kreider who tied his career high of 21 goals with a dynamic burst down the left side with an excellent locomotive imitation.
Kreider’s laser shot seemed to mummify Calgary goalie Brian Elliott as it sailed over the net minder’s left shoulder. That, however, was not the end of Rangers heroics.
Following an excellent rush by J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast took J.T.’s nifty goal-mouth pass to put the Blueshirts up by two. But a minute later the Flames reduced the lead to one.
But from that point, the Rangers extinguished every attempt at a Flames rally including a last-seconds push by the visitors.
While the 4-3 victory will not obscure Super Bowl headlines, it reinforces New York’s need to stay on the plus-side of the NHL with this second straight win.
OVERVIEW: Rarely seen Western teams such as Calgary can be troublesome if only because they don’t inspire the kind of intensity juices that a team such as the Penguins or Islanders produce for the Rangers. But until rules change — and they won’t — the Blueshirts get a pair of points no matter the geographic location of their foe. Prepared for the Flames and not distracted by surrounding football fury, the Rangers did their thing. After a very tepid second period, they got their game in gear and sent the Flames packing.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- THE GRAB BAG: Michael Grabner continued to slake his thirst for goals, scoring his 23rd red light of the season to break the 1-1 tie early in the third period.
- HERE’S TO HANK: Once again, Henrik reinforced the feeling that his A-Game is relentlessly returning. No, on this afternoon, it was not perfection personified but it was good enough for a pair of points.
- J.T. MILLER: Every week in every way, the budding star shines even more brightly. He was a decisive factor in the victory. His pass on the Fast goal was extraordinary.
- JESPER FAST: He scored the winner and blocked a potential tying shot by Calgary. His captain thinks the world of this underrated Ranger. (See Ryan McDonagh quote below.)
- RESILIENT RICK: Shortly after Calgary took the first-period lead, Rick Nash found himself in the dirty area where he does his best work. In this case, he cashed in the rebound of Derek Stepan’s shot to tie the count. At the time, it was a key play.
- THRIVING THIRD: After a desultory second period, the Blueshirts came out in the third on a mission. They out-chanced the Flames and were harder on the puck and that led to the win.
WHAT THEY SAID:
- MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST DAVE MALONEY: “When Hank Lundqvist is on his game, he’s a battler.”
- MSG NETWORKS’ ANALYST STEVE VALIQUETTE: “Even when Chris Kreider doesn’t score, his speed pushes the opposition back.”
- RYAN MCDONAGH: “We have tons of respect for Jesper Fast. It was great to see him score the game-winning goal. We wanted to start this homestand on the right foot and we did.”
- MSG NETWORKS’ JOE MICHELETTI: “The thing I love about J.T. Miller is that he’s an imaginative player. He’s as good as anybody on the team in making great passes.”
- ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “I liked our first period but I don’t know what happened in the second period. In the third, we executed better and got the two points. We play well at The Garden and starting the home stand with a win should help us against Anaheim.”
TURNING POINT: It has to be Jesper Fast’s goal which gave the Rangers a two-goal cushion at the time. In the end — after Calgary rallied with another red light — JF’s red light proved to be the winner.
COMING ATTRACTIONS: The Rangers’ homestand continues on Tuesday when the Anaheim Ducks visit MSG.Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. TV — MSG Networks.
BOTTOM LINE: Forgetting the second period, the Rangers’ fans saw a good team effort with the best players playing their best. This game could set the stage for a bonanza home stand.