COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s amazing how the demeanor changes with the result of a skills competition. The hope for the Rangers is that it doesn’t create a delusion.
Yet for a moment, it was all happiness yet again around the Blueshirts, who managed to take a wild 5-4 shootout victory against the Blue Jackets on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena. Forget blowing the 3-1 lead they held midway through the second. Instead, the focus was narrowed on Jimmy Vesey sneaking one by Columbus backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo in the fifth round of the shootout that cemented the good feeling.
“It’s obviously a lot nicer standing here after a game like this,” Mika Zibanejad said, “with a win instead of a loss.”
Just the night before in Detroit, Zibanejad and his mates were trying to explain away how they blew a 2-0 third-period lead and ended up losing, 3-2 in overtime. It was a gut-wrenching defeat that ended a four-game winning streak.
But now, the Rangers (8-7-2) are just a team that is 5-0-1 in their past six, going to 4-0 in the shootout and streaking under first-year head coach David Quinn as they continue what was supposed to be a season of rebuilding. Instead, they have muddied the waters with this run, at least convincing themselves that they can keep it up and make a push inside a soft middle of the Eastern Conference.
“Sometime you have a good nights and sometimes you don’t,” Quinn said. “I thought we managed to get two points.”
Quinn went with backup Alexandar Georgiev in nets, and he stood tall in the third period when he turned aside all 11 shots he faced from John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets (9-6-2), while the Rangers managed just two shots on goal over the final 20 minutes of regulation. Georgiev then had to stop Artemi Panarin twice in the 3-on-3 overtime, and then again in the shootout, denying 3-of-5 Columbus shooters to get the extra point.
“I’m just glad to hear that [my teammates] trust me,” said Georgiev, who is now 2-0 in the shootout and 3-1 in his four starts this season. “I’m just playing my game and they’re doing a great job, so it’s a whole team effort.”
It was also a team effort when the Rangers crumbled for a stretch of 4:14 in the second period. Up 3-1 on goals from Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider, the tide turned when a long Seth Jones shot was deflected in by Pierre-Luc Dubois at 11:49. Just 32 seconds later, Nick Foligno tied it on an odd-man rush, followed soon thereafter by a shorthanded goal from Alexander Wennberg to give Columbus a 4-3 lead.
Quinn called a timeout, and the young Rangers actually did manage to settle down.
“Even though we give up the three goals to [make it] 4-3, during that process, we wanted to calm down, take a few deep breaths and get back to it,” Zibanejad said. “Obviously we brought that on ourselves, some mistakes, some bad reads. We knew when we were playing the way we did for the most part of the game, we were fine. We have to find a way to get back to that.”
It happened when Kevin Hayes continued playing the best hockey of his career, making his second dazzling primary assist of the night, spinning to feed Vesey in front to tie it, 4-4, with just 53 seconds left in the second period.
“No,” Quinn said, “you can’t overstate how important that goal was.”
That goal essentially got the Rangers back on solid ground, and it allowed them to limit the Blue Jackets’ high-danger scoring chances in the third period and the overtime. Then Zibanejad and Kevin Shattenkirk scored in the skills competition, setting the stage for Vesey’s winner.
It was wild, but it worked out. And now this streaking team gets to go home for Monday night’s Garden match against the Canucks hoping to keep it going rather than licking their wounds.
“No rest for the weary,” Quinn said.