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Michael Grabner’s goal with 16.5 left caps comeback win for Rangers

New York Rangers' Michael Grabner, left, celebrates his

New York Rangers' Michael Grabner, left, celebrates his game-winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets with teammates Jesper Fast, center, and Brady Skjei during the third period of an NHL game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: AP / Jay LaPrete

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Rangers can take it as a compliment that the Blue Jackets saw their presence Saturday night as enough motivation to help them shrug off their lost chance to make history. There was no letdown or hangover, only a tough match against a good and familiar nemesis.

For their part, the Rangers proved worthy of the respect, and then some.

So it was not an outcome for the ages or record books. The 5-4 victory for the Rangers meant plenty to the players who achieved it. It meant a lot to their hearts and psyches to see Michael Grabner score with 16.5 seconds left. It meant a ton to erase a three-goal deficit on two goals by defenseman Adam Clendening, who had not had a previous goal all season and sometimes does not seem to have a role.

“I’ve said it from the beginning: It’s nice when you’re on a winning hockey team,” said Clendening, who scored from the left circle at 1:22 of the third period with the Rangers on a power play and beat backup goalie Curtis McElhinney from the right boards at 12:57 of the final period to make it 4-4. “Sometimes it doesn’t fall your way, but when you get the chance, you can help the team, it makes it that much more sweeter.”

It had the makings of a sour letdown for both teams. Circumstances had seemed almost perfectly set up, with Columbus on course to try for a league-record 18th consecutive victory against a respected nemesis. But the Blue Jackets’ loss in Washington on Thursday night took the air out of that lofty balloon — for the Rangers, too.

The streak was stopped at 16 games, one short of the record set by the 1992-93 Penguins. So the focus was on the fact that despite having won 16 in a row, the Blue Jackets were only three points ahead of the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division. Proximity took precedence over history.

As Blue Jackets coach (and former Rangers coach) John Tortorella said earlier in the day, in one last postmortem on the streak, “We’re playing the New York Rangers, a very good hockey club. A Saturday night. This is a very good game to come back with.”

His team was pumped to start over, putting two pucks behind Henrik Lundqvist in the first 4:37, the second on the league’s best power play.

Whatever electricity was lost by the absence of a record at stake was replaced by the lightning speed of Grabner. He broke free for an unassisted goal at 4:12 of the second period, cutting into a 4-1 Columbus lead.

“We know we have a good team in here. We knew the first period wasn’t us,” Grabner said.

This result topped even the Rangers’ victory over the Flyers on Wednesday. It had a dramatic finish as Grabner stole a pass at his own blue line, charged up ice and scored after a nifty deke to the backhand.

“I tried to really play defense and I saw the guy [Columbus defenseman Seth Jones] fan on the pass, so I went for it, tried to not look up at the time and skated as fast as I can,” said Grabner, who leads the Rangers with 18 goals. “Obviously, I’m not the biggest hitter and stuff like that, so I’ve got to try to find ways to close the game and try to make it tough on their D.”

The result convinced the Rangers, as Ryan McDonagh said, that they are capable of something special. From the looks on their faces, “special” beats being part of history any day.

Vigneault passes Torts. Alain Vigneault earned his 172nd win as Rangers coach, which moved him into fourth place on the franchise wins list, one ahead of Tortorella.


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