Three games into the season, nothing seemed to be working for the Rangers. When they played well defensively, they didn’t score. When they scored, they couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net. And when they changed their lineup, it didn’t seem to change their luck.
Until Thursday night.
Brady Skjei scored 37 seconds into overtime to give the Rangers their first victory of the season, a 3-2 win over the visiting San Jose Sharks at Madison Square Garden. The victory lifted the Rangers to 1-3 and helped them avoid what would have been their first 0-4 start to a season since 1998-99.
First-year Rangers coach David Quinn, who dressed his fourth different lineup in four games, earned his first victory as an NHL coach. He said his players presented him the puck from the game afterward.
“I wish we could have divided the puck up in about 45 pieces, because it certainly was a great win for us,’’ Quinn said. “We needed to feel good about tonight. We needed to feel good about something.’’
“It’s huge,’’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of the victory. “I don’t know if we deserved it, but sometimes you’ve just got to find a way. And that’s sometimes more important than to play well. The first two periods, I don’t really think we played the way we talked about — how we need to play, and the smartness that needs to be there . . . but then in the third, we said a few things in here [the locker room], and I think we started playing the way we need to play. You need to be smart with your decisions. That’s all it is.’’
Fortunately, while his teammates were not playing at the top of their game in the first two periods, Lundqvist was at the top of his, and he kept the team in it. The 36-year-old goaltender made 41 saves in the game as the Rangers were outshot 43-27. He was biggest in those first two periods, when he stopped 31 of 33 shots as the Rangers were outshot 33-15.
They trailed 2-1 late in the third before defenseman Brendan Smith’s goal with 2:39 left in regulation tied it. Smith drifted down to the slot and swept in a pass from Jesper Fast for his first goal of the season.
“He’s playing to his full potential right now, and that’s what we need,’’ Lundqvist said of Smith, who was banished to the minor leagues last season. “For us to make the top eight in the East [and earn a playoff spot], we need everybody to play their best game. And Smitty is going to be a big part of it.’’
Joonas Donskoi’s finish of a three-on-one break early in the second period put the Sharks ahead 2-1 after the teams traded goals in the first period.
San Jose’s Marcus Sorensen opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal at 4:31 of the first period — he dipsy-doodled past point man Skjei before ripping a wrist shot over Lundqvist’s catching glove — but rookie Brett Howden tied it for the Rangers with a back-to-the-goal, between-his-legs backhander that survived a replay challenge by the Sharks (they thought Mats Zuccarello might have been offside on the play) to tie the score at 1-1 at 13:52 of the period.