Playing with 15 skaters is near impossible for any professional hockey team and the New York Rangers still found a way to pull off a victory Sunday night.
There were recent trades, “roster management” players sitting for cap purposes, injuries, and ejections that led to the Rangers needing not just their stars, but their leaders to come through after four straight losses.
And boy, did they ever.
“I said to the guys back in your minor hockey days everybody loved playing every second or third shift & the defense rolled and just played. You get into the game that way. Fortunately for us, we got away with it. The guys played one of their better games in a long time.” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said after the win.
New York’s 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings showed the toughness and grit that comes with playing for a team like the Rangers. The Blueshirts were outshot and out-manned throughout the entire contest and yet still found a way to win in a big way.
“I’m really proud of this group we have in here. After a game like yesterday, back-to-back, come back here and play against a good team. That’s impressive and super proud of the guys.” Mika Zibanejad explained.
Zibanejad is part of a leadership group that has been part of the leadership group with the Rangers that has been a major part of the team’s success. They showed just how important late in the second period. Up 3-0, New York had seemingly lost Zibanejad for the rest of the game after the forward took a shot off his ankle and hobbled to the locker room without being able to put weight on his foot.
But the former Ottawa forward came back to the ice to start the third to the approval of a roaring crowd and even managed to put the game on ice with a powerplay goal.
“You’re scared whenever someone stays down. We were happy to see him come back. It was great to see him come back and it was nothing too serious.” said Adam Fox.
Zibanejad’s heart was on full display Sunday night with his return even if the injury wasn’t deemed serious enough to keep him off the ice.
“Obviously it’s scary but it was all good. He hit me pretty hard. He told me last game that he didn’t have that hard of a shot but I guess he worked on it.” Zibanejad said with a smile.
The Rangers’ top center wasn’t the only player that showed guts in Sunday’s win either. After K’Andre Miller was ejected for spitting on an opponent, New York only had four playable defenders ready for the remainder of Sunday’s contest.
Somehow, the combination of Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, Ben Harpur, and Niko Mikkola was able to shut down the King’s offensive attack with each player getting over 20 minutes of ice time.
“We talked about it as a team. We had to keep things simple. It almost made our jobs easier, we just had to get the puck up.” Fox explained.
Fox may be significantly younger than Trouba or even Zibanejad, but he is part of the team that made the Eastern Conference Finals last season. With New York’s goals to get even further than they did last season, their leadership group has needed to take more prominent roles on the ice.
And Sunday night’s win was the perfect example of an under-manned team finding any way possible to win a hockey game against another cup-contending team.