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Alexis Lafreniere nets winner in his hometown as Rangers earn first victory

New York Rangers' Chris Kreider (20) celebrates with

New York Rangers' Chris Kreider (20) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP) Credit: AP/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — Talk about a Hollywood ending.

Alexis Lafreniere, the Montreal-area kid who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, played his first game as an NHL player in his hometown arena Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens.

And how did it play out for the 20-year-old native of St. Eustache, Quebec?

He scored what proved to be the winning goal in the Rangers’ 3-1 victory, their first win of the season.

"Pretty good moment, obviously,’’ Lafreniere said. "To score in Montreal, that’s pretty fun.’’

Lafreniere took a high stick on the play. It required stitches, but he said it was well worth it.

"I mean just, I don’t know, it was just really special, you know, just to score, especially in Montreal,’’ he said. "The building was electric tonight.’’

The goal, Lafreniere’s first of the season, came from a two-on-one feed by Mika Zibanejad at 9:50 of the third period, 26 seconds after Jonathan Drouin’s goal had tied it at 1 for the Canadiens (0-3). Kevin Rooney sealed it with an empty-netter with 9.4 seconds left.

The Rangers (1-1-1) will play the second game of their four-game road trip Monday night in Toronto. "It’s a good way to start the trip,’’ Lafreniere said.

Well, the win was good, but not everything was for the Rangers. They played without second-line center Ryan Strome (COVID-19 protocol) and then lost Kaapo Kakko for the final two periods with an upper-body injury.

"It’s tough when you lose a player during the game, especially a top player like Kaapo,’’ said coach Gerard Gallant, who added that Kakko is day-to-day. "But that’s part of the game, and the guys dug in and dug down. And other guys got a little bit more ice time.’’

The loss of Strome and Kakko leaves the Rangers a little short on talent in their top two lines, a problem exacerbated by the situation involving Russian winger Vitali Kravtsov.

Kravtsov refused to report to AHL Hartford when the Rangers assigned him there Monday as they cut down to their 23-man opening-night roster.

He had been expected to make the team out of training camp, but because he did not need to be placed on waivers — and Dryden Hunt, Julien Gauthier and Libor Hajek did — Kravtsov got sent down.

The assignment probably was going to be only temporary, but Kravtsov refused to go, and now he is suspended by the team and has been given permission to seek a trade.

With Strome out, Gallant moved Filip Chytil up from his third-line role to take Strome’s usual place between Artemi Panarin and Kakko. Chytil played a season-high 21:02, had one shot on goal and won 6 of 11 faceoffs.

The game was scoreless after one period, but the Canadiens started taking penalties, four in all in the second period. The Rangers eventually cashed in when Chris Kreider tipped a shot by Zibanejad that hit the skate of Montreal defenseman Alexander Romanov and ricocheted behind Canadiens goalie Jake Allen at 9:59 to make it 1-0.

If not for all the penalties, Montreal might have been in control against the undermanned Rangers. Despite being shorthanded much of the second period, the Canadiens outshot the Rangers 13-9, and only some brilliant work by goalie Igor Shesterkin — whose best save came on a snazzy glove grab of a deflection in front by Cedric Paquette at 14:22 — kept the Rangers on top.

Shesterkin made 31 saves as the Rangers were outshot 32-24.

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