VANCOUVER — When he scored the tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, in what would eventually become a 3-2 overtime loss Monday night in Edmonton, Brett Howden spread his arms wide, leaned back and looked to the rafters as he celebrated. For Howden, the 20-year-old rookie center, scoring that goal had to feel like lifting a 1,000-pound weight off his shoulders.
“It’s a big relief for sure,’’ said Howden Tuesday, after he was one of 10 players who skated at Rogers Arena in preparation for Wednesday’s game here against the Canucks. “It’s been something that sits in the back of your mind for any player, after it’s been that long, and it felt nice for one to finally go in after I’ve been getting lots of chances.’’
For the record it had been 35 straight games without a goal for Howden, who had last scored Nov. 12 at the Garden against the same Canucks team he’ll see Wednesday. That’s 35 games played, not including the 15 games he missed with a right knee injury suffered in the first game after the All-Star break.
The drought had been so long, Howden said, that one of his teammates joked after he scored Monday that perhaps he might like the puck as a souvenir, as his first goal.
But seriously, he said, his teammates couldn’t have been more thrilled.
“Everybody was really happy for me and it was nice to see the support from everyone,’’ he said. “It’s a really good group here.’’
Howden admitted he’d been pressing for a while before the All-Star break. He doesn’t know how long his drought had gone on before he noticed it, “but after it’s been three or four months, it probably sticks in your mind a little bit.’’
The Winnipeg native, who was a first round pick by Tampa Bay in 2016 and was sent to the Rangers as part of the package in the massive Ryan McDonagh-J.T. Miller deal, went with the team on its trip to Winnipeg last month though he couldn’t play. He said the current trip to Western Canada, even though it doesn’t include Winnipeg, feels a little like being home. He played his junior hockey in the Western Hockey League, and had played in Edmonton’s Rogers Place with his junior team, the Moose Jaw Warriors.
“It feels nice to get back over here,’’ he said. “I’ve played in the Edmonton rink, so I felt comfortable there. I’ve never played in this rink (in Vancouver), but I’ve been here before, too. It’s nice to see some familiar places.’’
Overall, Howden has played in 53 games in his first pro season, scoring five goals with 12 assists and averaging 14:52 in ice time. It’s been a good learning experience, he said.
“It’s the most up-and-down year I’ve had, for sure,’’ he said. “It’s a long year, and I began to learn that. It’s a hard league to play in. I’ve been learning a lot from the older guys, and hopefully I can end on a high note here, with all of us, and just finish out the season strong.’’
Notes & quotes: Wisconsin defenseman K’Andre Miller, one of three first round picks by the Rangers last summer, was named a finalist for Big 10 Freshman of the Year.