The trade of enforcer Cody McLeod on Wednesday — the Rangers sent him back to the Nashville Predators, from whom the Rangers claimed him on waivers just over a year ago — was a relatively minor transaction. After all, McLeod played on the fourth line, didn’t get much ice time, and had only contributed one goal and no assists in 31 games this season.
But the deal had the feel of the beginning of the end for this group, as it figures to be the first of several that will be completed before the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Free agents-to-be Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, Adam McQuaid — and who knows who else — could be leaving New York soon, and more youngsters such as Vinni Lettieri, called up to take McLeod’s place on the roster, could be on the way in.
And so with all that hanging over them, the Rangers hosted the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night in the third game of their five-game homestand. The Rangers were looking for their first win on the homestand, and they got it when Tony DeAngelo, the seventh shooter for the Rangers, roofed a forehand shot over Jaroslav Halak to give them a 4-3 shootout win. David Krejci missed his attempt to tie it.
The win lifted the Rangers to 23-22-8 on the season, for 54 points. They are 1-1-1 on the homestand with the next game coming Friday against Carolina.
The Rangers entered the third period trailing 3-1, but Hayes, the Dorchester, Mass. native and Boston College product, scored a goal at 9:24 of the third period, converting a pass from childhood friend Jimmy Vesey to cut the deficit to 3-2. Then, with Long Island native Charlie McAvoy sitting out a boarding penalty against Mika Zibanejad, 19-year-old rookie Filip Chytil tied the score when he pounced on the rebound of a left point shot from Pavel Buchnevich and put it past Halak for a power-play goal at 12:41.
Rangers coach David Quinn, who rooted for the Bruins growing up in Rhode Island, already had gone through facing the Bruins in Boston in the Rangers’ final game before the All-Star break. In his pregame news conference, Quinn was asked if there was anything special in facing them in the Garden.
“I’m really just dialed in on our season, and where we’re at,’’ he said. “We continue to make progress, and develop and move forward. And winning and losing takes care of itself. We’ve been fortunate enough to win some games, probably, maybe more than people had thought, but we’re continuing to stick to the plan and move forward and develop and give our young guys a chance to continue to grow. And they’ve played well . . .
“All the young players we have on our team are continuing to get better and we’re going in the right direction.’’
It had the ring of a concession speech, as the Rangers began the day nine points out of a playoff spot with 30 games to go. But the Rangers started off like a team that was still fighting to get back in the race.
Against a Bruins team that had played in Boston Tuesday night against the Islanders, the Rangers dominated possession in the first period, and eventually took the lead on another goal by Zibanejad late in the period. Zibanejad scored his 22nd goal of the season at 17:45 on a one-time blast off a pass from down low by Zuccarello, with Chris Kreider tied up with McAvoy on top of the crease, screening Halak.
But the Bruins owned the second period, ripping off three straight goals — by Danton Heinen, at 10:37, David Pastrnak at 11:49 (his 31st of the season) and by Patrice Bergeron (his 19th) on the power play at 15:11.