As the Rangers arrived at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, the news had just begun sinking in about the deadly truck attack near the Hudson River. In the somber dressing room of a slumping team, the tragedy was the topic of conversation.
“It’s a horrible, horrible thing,” said center Mika Zibanejad, whose inspirational third period helped rally the Rangers to a 6-4 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights. “We were trying to play for the whole city and for all the families involved. We talked about that. It was bigger than the two points today.”
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is married with two small children, spoke to his teammates about the importance of the game. “It was emotional for me,” he said. “My family is in that area every day and coming to the game and not knowing if they were safe or not, it was not a good feeling.”
In his post-game remarks, coach Alain Vigneault described “a lot of emotion with what happened in Tribeca. A lot of our players live around there. They saw firsthand last year what the police and first responders do (during a pre-season team-building activity with them). It was an emotional moment what happened today, but our guys handled it well and we were able to come back.”
Trailing 4-2 going into the third period, the Blueshirts put it all together after rallies had failed in previous games.
With the game-winning goal and two assists, Zibanejad rescued them from a potentially shattering defeat against Maxime Lagace, a fourth-string goalie making his first NHL start, and against an expansion team in the second game of a back-to-back on the road. It was the first time this season that the Rangers, now 4-7-2 to close October, had won after trailing going into the final period.
“We came in with a great mindset after the second period,” said Kevin Shattenkirk. “We knew that was a big period for us; just a great response by everyone, just a great feeling in here. In the past, we’ve come back, tied it up and then sat back. Tonight we tied it up and kept pushing for that next goal, that’s what we have to realize, you have to fight even harder to get that game-winner. What clicked is that we were tired of being in that situation.”
The Rangers’ third-period surge started at the two-minute mark of a four-minute power play to David Perron for tripping. Zibanejad threaded a diagonal pass to Chris Kreider, driving hard to the left post, for a redirect that to trimmed the lead to 4-3 at 5:31.
Line after line continue to press, and a rattled Lagace overcommitted beyond the crease and Zibanejad found Pavel Buchnevich alone in front for the tie at 9:26. It was his fourth goal in the last three games as the crowd stirred, sensing the possibility of a stunning finish.
Zibanejad’s goal, a power-play wrister from the left side with Kreider screening Lagace, pushed the Rangers ahead 5-4 at 14:11. Michael Grabner’s empty-netter with 1:14 left sealed it.
Mats Zuccarello had tied the score at two early in the second period, but that lead was quickly erased by Reilly Smith’s second of the night at 7:06 and Perron’s penalty shot at 18:59 put the Rangers in that 4-2 hole.
“All our focus and energy was just on leaving everything out there,” said Lundqvist. “After what happened today it was important for us to have a strong game at home. It was definitely more than just the two points.”