EDMONTON, Alberta — Down six goals and with their starting goaltender pulled from the game after he destroyed his stick out of frustration, the Rangers, in their final game of 2019, nearly made NHL history in their final game of the 2010s.
The Blueshirts somehow managed to string together five goals in the final 20:25 in their New Year’s Eve game against the Edmonton Oilers and were in position to pull off the greatest comeback in NHL history to close out 2019. Ultimately, they failed to do it, as Edmonton’s Kailer Yamamoto scored into an empty net to secure a 7-5 victory for the Oilers. But when it was all over, the Rangers walked out of Rogers Place with a pretty obvious New Year’s Resolution: Don’t fall behind 6-0 before you start playing hockey.
“They were hungrier than us in the beginning,’’ said Mika Zibanejad, whose goal at 16:15 of the third period pulled the Rangers within 6-5. “We started the game [down] 3-0, and then [allowed] a couple power play goals . . . It was obviously not the way to go.’’
Rangers coach David Quinn contributed to his team’s second-period meltdown when he yelled at the referees after a power-play goal that made it 4-0 and was hit with a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct, leading to another Oilers power play and a 5-0 deficit. Quinn was asked whether he would focus on the 6-0 deficit or the rally that got his team to within 6-5. He said he would focus on the comeback, he said.
“I think we showed a lot of characteristics you need to have success,’’ Quinn said. “You just can’t have the start that we had; that’s obvious. We just weren’t ready to play. But to have the wherewithal to turn it on the way we did, even in the second period, we were doing a lot of good things.’’
Before the game, Quinn was asked if he might be especially mindful of telling his team to stay out of the penalty box against the team that had to top two scorers in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. He answered, with a smile, that staying out of the box is something the Rangers stress regardless of the opponent, but yes, it would be especially important avoid taking penalties against the Oilers.
And the Rangers took seven penalties, for 16 minutes, giving Edmonton six power plays. The Oilers scored on three of them.
Edmonton was already ahead at 1-0, on the first of James Neal’s three goals, which had come just 11 seconds into the game, when Brett Howden took what looked like an innocent little neutral zone tripping penalty. Eight seconds later, Neal tipped in a shot from Oscar Klefbom to make it 2-0 at 8:46. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had a goal and three assists, made it 3-0 when he tipped in a shot by Ethan Bear at 11:13.
The Rangers appeared to have settled down in the second period, until Ryan Lindgren got into a beef with Edmonton’s Jujhar Khaira that somehow ended up with Lindgren getting two minute penalties for cross-checking and slashing, while Khaira was only penalized for cross-checking. Draisaitl scored on that one, his 23rd of the season at 13:11 of the second, and Quinn lost his mind on the referees. Asked if it was the call, or the 5-0 deficit that set him off, the coach said it was the call.
Neal completed his hat trick on that one, making it 5-0 at 13:23, and it wasn’t over yet. Josh Archibald’s goal made it 6-0, and Alexandar Georgiev just couldn’t take it anymore. He started whacking his goal stick against the post over and over until it finally broke. Quinn pulled him at the next stoppage in play, in favor of Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers were able to survive Filip Chytil’s hooking penalty and Chris Kreider banged in a pass from Artemi Panarin with 25 seconds left in the period to break the shutout. The goal was the 145th of Kreider’s career, which tied him with Rick Nash for the most goals by a Ranger in the decade.
Ryan Strome added a goal at 4:38 of the third period to make it 6-2, and then Marc Staal tipped in a Strome shot to make it 6-3 at 11:29 of the third period. Panarin (one goal, three assists) scored to make it 6-4 at 12:07, and Zibanejad scored to make it 6-5.
Edmonton improved to 21-17-4 with the victory. The Rangers fell to 19-16-4, and move on to Calgary, where they face the Flames on Thursday.