WINNIPEG, MB - The New York Rangers made their way to Bell MTS Place on Sunday for a matinee matchup with the hometown Winnipeg Jets – their only trip to Manitoba’s capital this season. Although getting off to a shaky start, led by Jimmy Vesey, who made his return to New York’s lineup following a three-game injury absence, the Rangers held on to pick up both points in Sunday’s showdown,
The afternoon contest came on the heels of the Jets’ first regulation loss of their franchise-record 10-game homestand, as they fell 5-2 to the visiting St. Louis Blues on Friday night. Winnipeg is now 3-2-1 through six of ten games on this January-February stretch.
After announcing a pending fire-sale in preparation for a rebuild in the Big Apple last week, General Manager Glen Sather’s Blueshirts provided fans at Bell MTS Place with a potential chance at catching veteran players – such as captain Ryan McDonagh and wingers Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and Mats Zuccarello – in Rangers’ threads for what may be the final time.
In looking to turn things around off the bat, it took the Jets just 24 seconds to strike, in what the 16,345 screaming fans in the arena thought would be defenceman Tyler Myers’ sixth goal of the campaign. Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault had other ideas, and used his Coach’s Challenge on a potential zone-entry offside prior to Myers’ slap shot goal.
Following a lengthy review, referee Tom Kowal and his officiating crew announced that the Jets were indeed offside, thus negating the game’s opening goal – much to the displeasure of those gathered at Bell MTS Place for the afternoon. Vigneault’s challenge may very well have been the quickest Coach’s Challenge ever in NHL history, coming at the 19:36 mark of the opening frame.
Clearly the no-goal call frustrated Winnipeg, as the hometown boys struck less than a minute later – this time, the goal stood. Following a cross-ice pass from Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers hammered his 21st goal of the season past a disoriented Henrik Lundqvist, finally giving the Jets the one-goal lead.
It took until the last minute of play for the Rangers to respond, as Winnipeg held serious pressure for the majority of the opening frame. On a quick break up ice, Zuccarello potted his ninth goal of the season on a low, heavy wrist shot that found its way through Connor Hellebuyck’s legs, tying the game up at ones to end the first period of play.
A scoreless second period was highlighted by Binscarth, Manitoba’s Cody McLeod taking an interference penalty on Toby Enstrom. McLeod’s hit removed Enstrom from the game momentarily, as the 33-year-old Swede received some medical attention down the Jets’ tunnel before returning to action later in the frame.
Following his release from the sin bin, McLeod dropped the gloves with Winnipeg’s Matt Hendricks – who made his return to the lineup following a two-game injury absence – and the two provided an animated tilt that left both players a little worse for wear.
With blood covering the ice, the two agitators both skipped out on penalty box visits and went directly to their respective team’s dressing rooms for facial repairs. The hearty tilt served both as retribution for the hit on Enstrom, and also fulfilled some unfinished business from a November 20th brawl in Nashville – back when McLeod was still a member of the reigning Western Conference champion Predators.
The Rangers dominated the second period of play after standing still for most of the first. New York led Winnipeg in the shots department 24-21 heading into the final period of play.
Much like the second period, the third frame went without a goal until the 16:08 mark when a Jimmy Vesey point shot made its way through traffic and past Hellebuyck for the go-ahead strike.
Maurice pulled Hellebuyck with a minute-and-a-half left to play. His decision nearly paid off as a Dustin Byfuglien point shot also found its way through a heavy screen and past Lundqvist with 1:22 to go. But the goal would not stand as it was determined upon further review that forward Mark Scheifele had deflected the puck with a high stick, once again negating a Winnipeg Jets goal.
Former Manitoba Moose forward Michael Grabner sealed the deal for New York, as he scored an empty net strike with 42 seconds left to play, giving the Rangers a 3-1 victory on the road.
Although normally lacing a highly potent power play, since their bye week Winnipeg has struggled on the man advantage. Operating at a 13 percent success rate, the Jets have only scored four goals in 30 opportunities following Sunday’s game.
Heading into Friday’s matchup with St. Louis, the Jets had lost just one home game in regulation since October. Even in losing in regulation in back-to-back matchups, Winnipeg still owns the league’s best home record in 2017-18 at 20-5-2, picking up points in 22 of 27 games.
With the loss on Sunday, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck’s record dropped to 7-2-4 versus the East in the 2017-18 season. In nine starts against teams hailing from the NHL’s Eastern Conference, Hellebuyck is 7-1-1. He had not lost in Winnipeg against the East since November 4th, 2017 against Montreal. His last regulation loss to an Eastern Conference team in Winnipeg came in March of 2017.
Winnipeg will resume its 10-game homestand with a Tuesday night contest against the league’s goal-scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. The Jets will then welcome Colorado, Florida and Los Angeles to Bell MTS Place over the course of the next week. Puck-drop is set for 7:00 P.M. Tuesday, and the action can be seen live on TSN3 or NBCSN.
Carter Brooks, Manitoba Post
Photos by James Carey Lauder