Game three of the Rangers’ four-game set against the Devils went from blowout to nail-biter in a little more than a minute, when the Devils scored a couple of four-on-four goals early in the third period Saturday.
But Pavel Buchnevich, on his 26th birthday, rescued the Rangers when he scored into an empty net with 1:21 to go to complete his first career hat trick, and struggling Chris Kreider added an empty-netter of his own to give the Rangers a 6-3 win, their third straight over the pesky Devils. The teams play again Sunday afternoon in Newark to finish their season series.
"It’s only once a year, your birthday,’’ Buchnevich said, with a grin, of his hat trick.
The Rangers are fortunate it happened to be on Saturday. Buchnevich became the first Ranger to score a hat trick on his birthday, and the 14th NHL player to do it (Wayne Gretzky did it twice). The hat trick saved the Rangers after they nearly blew a 4-0 lead they held when Artemi Panarin (goal, three assists) scored 32 seconds into the second period.
A goal by Mike McLeod midway through the second got the Devils on the board and foiled Igor Shesterkin’s bid for a third consecutive shutout, but it also got the Devils into the game. Then, in the third period, after the Rangers took exception to the Devils’ Nathan Bastian bumping into Shesterkin and Kreider jumped Bastian, coincidental roughing minors to Kreider and Bastian left the teams skating four-on-four, and P.K. Subban (at 5:34) and Yegor Sharangovich (at 6:38) scored for the Devils to pull them within 4-3.
Rangers coach David Quinn called timeout at that point, the Rangers settled down, and Buchnevich and Kreider scored to finally put the game away. But Quinn was not happy with the Rangers’ lapse in focus.
"It really was a reflection of where we were mentally,’’ said Quinn. "The four-on-four really exposed where we were mentally. Once we get up 4-0, I really thought that we disrespected the game and our opponent. And leading into it, I thought were doing all the things we needed to do.
"And we've talked about this: New Jersey, Buffalo, the teams that are out of it, they're gonna play their [butts] off. And if we think it's ever going to be easy, we're sadly, sadly mistaken.’’
The win allowed the Rangers (22-16-6, 50 points) to pull within four points of the idle Boston Bruins (24-12-6, 54), who currently hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division. The Rangers have 12 games remaining in the regular season. The Bruins have 14.
Buchnevich, who took over the team lead in goals with 19, started the Rangers off at 7:26 of the first period, when he finished a two-on-one pass from Mika Zibanejad (three assists) and then Ryan Strome made it 2-0 with a five-on-three power-play goal, also set up by Zibanejad, at 10:25.
Buchnevich’s second goal, also on the power play, made it 3-0 at 11:47 of the period and Panarin scored his 16th goal to make it 4-0 before things fell apart. Panarin had been bothered by the Rangers’ lax play in Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Devils, and spoke that night of the team having to clean up a few things in their play.
"We didn't fix those things enough,’’ he said Saturday, through interpreter Nick Bobrov, the Rangers’ director of European scouting. "We didn't clean them up enough. We gave up too many goals, and got a little bit sloppy and relaxed, and then had to correct things again. But thankfully we pulled it out, and we have to keep working on them.’’
Pavel Buchnevich became the 14th player in NHL history to score a hat trick on his birthday. Here are the 14 others (Wayne Gretzky did it twice):
Player, team Birth date Game date
Viktor Arvidsson, Predators, 4/8/1993 4/8/2021
Patrick Sharp, Blackhawks, 12/27/1981 12/27/2013
Pavol Demitra, Blues, 11/29/1974 11/29/2002
Dino Ciccarelli, Capitals, 2/8/1960 2/8/1991
Wayne Gretzky, Kings, 1/26/1961 1/26/1991
Jari Kurri, Oilers, 5/18/1960 5/18/1990
Paul MacLean, Jets, 3/9/1958 3/9/1988
Mike Gartner, Capitals, 10/29/1959 10/29/1985
Wayne Gretzky, Oilers, 1/26/1961 1/29/1985
Lanny McDonald, Flames, 2/16/1953 2/16/1984
Gilbert Perreault, Sabres, 11/13/1950 11/13/1983
Mats Hallin, Islanders, 3/19/1958 3/19/1983
Butch Goring, Kings, 10/22/1949 10/22/1975
Phil Esposito, Bruins, 2/20/1942 2/20/1974