Henrik Lundqvist always talked about focusing on the process and the journey instead of the result. Mika Zibanejad disagrees.
“It seems like the year is going by fast, but we still have almost half the season to play,” Zibanejad said after Thursday’s dramatic overtime victory over Dallas. “I think we’ve been getting more rebounds now because we’re working hard to earn them and we’re doing more of the right things.
“But I said this a month ago and it’s still true. It’s not about playing nice to create good clothes. That is not the most important. You want to play well, of course, but for me the only important thing is to win the game and get two points. It’s that close.”
Back in the Garden on Sunday against Montreal, the Rangers didn’t play particularly well. They were largely outclassed by their 27 overall opponents.
Most importantly, to Zibanejad’s point, they didn’t win, falling this one 2-1 to nullify the impact of Thursday’s last-second mini-miracle win.
The score was level at 1–1 after a second period in which Artemi Panarin punched a delayed penalty kick at 16:03, denying Kirby Dach’s power play goal at 4:54. The Rangers had rarely started during the first 40 minutes.
And they paid the price in the third period, Cole Caufield scoring at 8:56 and Sam Montembeault making 38 saves to send the Blueshirts to just their third loss (13-3-2) in the last 18 games and keep their cushion of playoffs in seven points.
Head coach Gerard Gallant’s choice to go with Igor Shesterkin at net on this front of a back-to-back game that concludes in Columbus on Monday was inspiring. Shesterkin turned down five Grade-A chances in the first period, starting with Cole Caufield’s left jab into the net just 45 seconds into the game. Shesterkin’s most acrobatic save came against first overall Juraj Slavkovsky from the front just under 10 minutes into the match. The goalkeeper was outstanding at all times.
The Canadiens had few illusions entering the season after a particularly ugly past season that cost general manager Marc Bergevin his job. Jeff Gorton, who had designed the rebuild in New York, arrived as vice president of hockey operations, and shortly thereafter, Kent Hughes as general manager and Martin St. Louis as coach.
And indeed, without necessarily trying, it seemed Montreal would be in prime lottery position to nab Connor Bedard. But the Habs, perhaps acting early on as an extension of their coach’s overachiever persona, were a surprisingly creditable 14-12-2 as of the morning of December 2.
Even a sharp leveling that took the club to the Garden with three wins in the immediately preceding 15 games (3-11-1), hasn’t been enough to move the Canadiens even further away from the Columbus-Anaheim-Chicago triumvirate. who has control of the main lottery positions.
The Habs, 27 overall, nine points better than the basement-dwelling Jackets, will just have to count on Gorton’s magic to materialize for the third time at the ping-pong ball extravaganza as he did in 2019, when the Blueshirts moved up from sixth to second to nab Kaapo Kakko, and again the next, when the team jumped out of the 24-team bubble tournament to the first overall pick that dumped Alexis Lafreniere.
Lafreniere, for his part, was on the left for the second game in a row in the absence of Chris Kreider with Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko. The unit, which had originally been intact through a 10-period stretch at the start of this streak, got 14:34 of ice in Thursday’s dramatic 2-1 overtime win over the Stars on a 77 shooting percentage, 78 and 56.72 xG.