OTTAWA – If there is such a thing as a must-win game for an NHL team in November, this one, against the lowly Senators, was it for the Rangers, who’d lost their previous three games and who were facing a crisis of confidence of sorts.
“Yeah,’’ Barclay Goodrow said, when asked if the Rangers had to have this one. “Pretty close to it.’’
Goals by Jimmy Vesey, Goodrow and Chris Kreider, three assists by stay-at-home defenseman Ryan Lindgren, and 34 saves by goaltender Jaroslav Halak got it done for the Rangers, who ended their losing streak with a 3-1 win at Canadian Tire Centre. The teams will meet again Friday at Madison Square Garden.
With his team in desperation mode, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant made the decision to start his backup goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, who had not recorded a win all season. And he sounded proud of the 37-year-old afterward.
“We won as a team, we played hard as a team, and a lot of good things happened tonight,’’ Gallant said. “We had great goaltending, obviously. He played outstanding.’’
“Obviously, the games that I played, I wanted to get a win, but at the same time, it's a long season, and I’m just trying to help the guys get some points, and win some games,’’ said Halak, who improved to 1-5-1. “It didn't happen before, but I'm glad that it finally happened tonight.’’
The Rangers scored more than two goals for the first time in Halak's seven starts.
Besides his choice of goaltenders, Gallant made a couple of tweaks in the lineup after Monday’s loss to the Devils. First, he inserted Vitali Kravtsov for the first time since Nov. 10, and second, he split up the struggling Jacob Trouba-K’Andre Miller defense pair, putting Trouba with Zac Jones and Miller with Braden Schneider.
The Rangers (11-9-4) got on the board first when Vesey reached around Ottawa goalie Cam Talbot to capture the rebound of a shot by Lindgren and tuck it in for his third goal of the season at 10:34 of the first period. That gave Halak a lead to work with, and despite looking uncertain at times, he stopped all 13 shots he faced in the opening period to get the Rangers to the first intermission up 1-0.
The Rangers made it 2-0 when Goodrow was able to tip in another point shot by Lindgren at 10:52 of the second period. But the two-goal cushion didn’t last long. Jones made an aggressive move to try and cut off a pass to Drake Batherson at the Rangers’ blue line, but didn’t get there, and Batherson was able to chip the puck back to Franklin Square native Shane Pinto, sending him in on a two-on-one with Trouba back. Trouba cut off the passing lane and Pinto fired a quick shot off the rush for his ninth goal at 13:47 to make it 2-1.
According to Vesey, the Rangers didn’t get nervous after that goal, though.
“It's definitely a momentum shift, I would say, in-game,’’ he said. “But I thought we did a better job tonight managing it. In the third period, I thought we played really well defending the lead.’’
Kreider got the all-important insurance goal to make it 3-1 when he got the shaft of his stick on Lindgren’s shot from the left point at 12:59 of the third period.
Gallant was asked afterward what was the most important part of the win – the fact that Halak played well and earned the win, or that the team was able to protect a lead in the third period.
“It was the win,’’ he said. “I don't care if it’s protecting a lead, or coming from behind. It doesn't make a difference. It's a good win.’’