It had been 51 weeks since Rangers fans had seen their Blueshirts in person at Madison Square Garden, and when the fans returned to The World’s Most Famous Arena on Friday night, their team put on a show for them.
Playing their second game since their leading scorer and best offensive player, Artemi Panarin, took a leave of absence, the Rangers rewarded the fans with a spirited 6-2 thrashing of the East Division-leading Boston Bruins in the opener of a two-game weekend set. The teams will go at it again Sunday afternoon at the Garden.
Ryan Strome had a goal and two assists, Chris Kreider scored his fourth goal in two games and Phillip Di Giuseppe, Colin Blackwell, Pavel Buchnevich and Jonny Brodzinski also scored against goalie Tuukka Rask to hand the Bruins their second loss in the New York area in two nights. The Islanders had blitzed Boston, 7-2, on Thursday.
The fans hadn’t seen the Rangers (7-8-3) play in person since a 6-4 loss at the Garden last March 7, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Feb. 10 that spectators could begin attending sporting events at arenas that seat at least 10,000 this week, with attendance limited to 10% of the venue’s capacity.
So 1,800 fans with negative COVID tests in hand were allowed to attend Friday’s game. They made themselves heard from the very beginning, cheering warmups, booing when the Bruins (11-5-2) were announced as the Rangers’ opponents, cheering hits by the Rangers and, of course, questioning the referees.
"I mean you can’t underestimate how great it was to have the fans back in the building,’’ Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren said. "They provided such a spark for us. And they were loud. You know there’s only [1,800] in there, but it seemed like the building was packed.’’
"You knew there were going to be fans in the building, but I don’t think any of us expected the impact that would make,’’ coach David Quinn said. "They were incredibly loud and passionate. And you hear the number of people that might be in here, and you think, ‘Oh, that’ll be nice, but they’re not gonna have that much of an impact.’ They had an impact tonight.’’
The Rangers got an early start when a wrist shot from far out by Julien Gauthier was tipped by Di Giuseppe and got past Rask (28 saves on 34 shots) at 13:16 of the first period. The Rangers made it 2-0 at 2:32 of the second period on a goal by Strome shortly after killing off a high- sticking penalty to Kevin Rooney.
Boston’s Patrice Bergeron deflected in a pretty pass from David Pastrnak at 4:02, and at that point, it seemed as if the Bruins were back in the game. But the Rangers got two goals 12 seconds apart near the end of the period — a power-play goal by Blackwell at 18:52 and Kreider’s ninth goal of the season at 19:04 — to open a 4-1 lead they took into intermission.
Goals by Buchnevich and Brodzinski early in the third put the game away.
"They get that one to make it 2-1, I thought they were coming,’’ Quinn said. "We had some lucky breaks on the penalty kill, we get the huge power-play goal, and Kreids gets that goal right away. And listen, we’re not ignorant to the fact this team played [Thursday] night. We know what we’re in for on Sunday.
"That being said, I really liked an awful lot about our game tonight. I thought we were ready to play from the drop of the puck. I thought we had all four lines going, our ‘D’ corps played well and our goalie played well. So it was truly a team effort.’’