It’s only 18 games into the season, but if it ended today, the Rangers would be in a playoff spot.
Nineteen-year-old rookie Filip Chytil scored his first goal of the season, 20-year-old rookie Brett Howden scored the game-winner and Henrik Lundqvist climbed into a tie with Jacques Plante for seventh place on the all-time list for goaltender wins as the Rangers came from behind to beat the visiting Vancouver Canucks, 2-1, Monday night at the Garden.
The win was the sixth in seven games for the Rangers (9-7-2), who are 6-0-1 in that span and sitting in second place in the Metropolitan Division behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. The top three teams in each of the two divisions in each conference make the playoffs along with two wild- card teams.
“There’s going to be a ton of teams fighting to get in,’’ said Lundqvist, who made 25 saves to improve his record to 6-6-2. “The last couple years, the difference between teams is getting smaller. It’s about being consistent. We can beat any team in the league right now. There’s a few teams that are extremely consistent and they’ve separated themselves a little bit. But the rest of the pack, there’s going to be a battle all year, and, we’re in it.
“And that’s important,’’ he added. “We need to be in this battle, be in this race to get in [the postseason]. And that’s going to help everyone on the team.’’
What is also going to help everyone on the team is if Chytil, who had been mired on the fourth line and getting less and less ice time, can build off what was easily his best performance all year. Rangers coach David Quinn constantly has bemoaned his inability to get more ice time for the 2017 first-round pick, but with Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and Howden all playing well at the center position ahead of him, Quinn couldn’t figure out how to do that.
The coach had tried playing Chytil on the wing earlier in the season, but he stopped doing that after a few games and put him back on the fourth line. But after Chytil popped in the rebound of Neal Pionk’s shot on a power play at 12:42 of the second period to tie the score at 1, Quinn decided to play Chytil on the wing again.
“I don’t know if he is a wing, and I’ve kind of been reluctant to put him on the wing because I don’t know if he loved it the first try,’’ Quinn said. “But I just wanted to get him more involved and more ice time and made the switch.’’
Chytil, who celebrated wildly after scoring, said he had a feeling he’d have a good night.
“Kreids [Chris Kreider] told me before the game, it’s my game today,’’ said Chytil, who had a game-high six shots on goal. “I felt more confident that guys believed in me, and on my first shift I had my first chance, and after I felt more confident and I had more chances. And after that, I was on the first line and I felt great.’’
Howden scored the eventual game-winner at 11:19 of the third period after he got thrown out of the faceoff circle. Jesper Fast won the faceoff and got the puck to Howden, who passed it back to Jimmy Vesey, whose shot was blocked. But the rebound fell right in front of Howden, and he fired it home for his fourth goal of the season.