Recap: Christopher James Kreider Legacy Game, Rangers Advance to ECF

Games like this don’t come around all that often. Games like this become the games we talk about for years and years to come. The complete 180 this game took in the second half of the final period is something I’m still sitting here trying to wrap my head around. No team loves a comeback more than the New York Rangers and sure enough, a mind-blowing natural hat-trick from Chris Kreider sparked an all-time comeback in Rangers history to put an end to the series, beating Carolina 5-3 in Game 6. Let’s recap how we got here. 

1st Period:

The Rangers got off to a relatively strong start in the opening minutes of the game but the pace of the game turned strange rather quickly. After registering a pair of shots on goal early, the Rangers went the majority of the first period without a properly accredited shot on goal, despite maintaining a strong amount of the possession. Unfortunately, that was really the only thing working in their favor. It didn’t help that the puck was skipping around the ice all throughout the opening period but the Hurricanes were slow and steadily collecting a significantly larger shot total than the Rangers. 

Couple of things that specifically weren’t working for the Rangers. For starters, too much slowing down at the blueline. Too much waiting for pucks to come to them as opposed to attacking the play. On top of the urgency issues, the Rangers were once again moving the puck around way too much, looking to make the more complicated play and creating problems for themselves in their own end. A minute and a half out from going into intermission scoreless, another failed defensive zone breakout resulted in Jordan Martinook feeding Martin Necas point blank to make it 1-0 Carolina. 

Plenty of hockey left but it was beyond clear the Rangers needed to pick up the phone and answer the wake up call. They were out-shot 10-3 after twenty with Carolina winning 59% of the face-offs. No penalties but Carolina’s ten blocked shots played a big role in the Rangers only getting three pucks on net. The only thing outside of possession the Rangers had going for them was out-hitting the Hurricanes 16-5 but given how the period went, that wasn’t helping enough. The time to find another gear and play with some urgency was right now. 

2nd Period:

You don’t get a better chance than the Rangers did two minutes into the second. A high stick from Martinook on Kaapo Kakko gave the Rangers the game's first power play. Down by one, after the period they had, getting the power play going would be absolutely integral. Instead, they lost possession yet again and Chris Kreider took a cross-checking penalty defending a shorthanded rush from Carolina. Just over a minute of 4-on-4 hockey, the Hurricanes had some power play time and Seth Jarvis would capitalize, 2-0. 

Still plenty of time, but panic levels were rising. This team needed to show some signs of life and thankfully they got it. A strong shift from the second line ended with Artemiy Panarin throwing the puck back towards the net from closer to the point which bounced off of Vincent Trocheck’s stick and off the pad of Freddie Anderson to bring the Rangers within goal. A timely, much needed response. 

This needed to be a turning point but it wasn’t. An unsuccessful pinch from K’Andre Miller sent Sebastian Aho flying and a tired Jimmy Vesey who has not been great to begin with the last couple of games, struggled to catch him. Aho cut from his backhand to roof a forehand flick shot past Igor Shesterkin, 3-1 Carolina. 

No question about it, the vibes were downright atrocious at this point. As much as you didn’t want to admit it, the Rangers were kind of lucky in getting back within one as there really wasn’t a noticeable change in their game up to this point. Now that they were down by two again, it wasn’t looking great. 

Finally, the Rangers were starting to show some urgency and the chances soon followed. Ryan Lindgren of all people snuck through traffic and ended up all alone on a breakaway. A quick move to his backhand allowed him to sneak the puck through Freddie Anderson and was inches, possibly even centimeters away from being a goal. A diving effort from Jordan Martinook saved what was otherwise a surefire goal. Just a brutal break for Lindgren and this Rangers team. 

Their luck wouldn’t turn much as Panarin had the chance for a partial breakaway but between being at the end of his shift and a strong defensive effort from Jalen Chatfield, the play was broken up. The tide would begin to turn again as Jack Drury hit a post and Shesterkin had to come up with several other key saves to keep Carolina from adding to their lead. The period would end with the Hurricanes dominating play and Jack Roslovic making a careless mistake at center ice, icing the puck with roughly thirty seconds still on the clock. 

After two, shots were 20-14 in favor of Carolina. The Hurricanes continued to lead in blocked shots, high danger chances and most importantly, the scoreboard. Still, this game was far from over. With twenty miles still ahead, the Rangers' time for an answer was running out. They needed tenacity, they needed some urgency and most notably, they needed someone to step up. Who was going to be the hero? 

3rd Period:

Christopher. James. Kreider. I can write an essay on this man and truth be told, I already have. It cannot be overstated, how special this player is, how important he is to this team and this game was living proof of it. First of all, it’s worth noting he missed practice for “maintenance” the other day which surprisingly left some brief question marks regarding his status for tonight’s game. Sure enough, when asked the morning of game day his answer was a statement, he would be playing and thank God for that. 

Six minutes in, a great battle from Jack Roslovic kept the puck in Carolina’s end. Mika Zibanejad then picked it up and threw it on net at a weird angle. Anderson grasped the puck between his skate and the post which allowed for Kreider to jab at the free puck to bring the Rangers within one, 3-2. 

Just a few minutes later, the Rangers got another golden opportunity as Jordan Staal was sent off for cross-checking Zibanejad behind the Hurricanes net. It was getting to the point where you were tired of saying it but the Rangers needed to get the power play going and the time was now. After another slow start, the top unit finally began moving the puck around with some poise. Trocheck found Panarin at the point and it was his shot that found the back of the net off a deflection in front from who else? Chris Kreider. Tied game, 3-3. 

And just like that, we had a hockey game on our hands. The entire narrative of this game was flipped leaving it completely up for grabs. With just under four and a half minutes to go, the Rangers top line went to work and began moving the puck around extraordinarily well down low in the Hurricanes zone. A great effort from Ryan Lindgren, who by the way has been excellent for the Rangers as of late, rushed the puck from the point all the way around the opposite side of the net. It was there, he threw it into traffic and Kreider was able to get a stick on it, completing the hat-trick and the comeback, 4-3 Rangers. 

An absolute legacy game for #20

The final four minutes of this game were some of the slowest four minutes of all time. The Rangers iced the puck plenty of times as the Hurricanes were desperate for an answer. Alas, they were stunned and rightfully so. Finally, with 49 seconds to go Barclay Goodrow sent the puck into the wide open net, sealing the deal with an empty netter goal to give the Rangers a 5-3 win, sending them to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

What. A. Win. 

This freaking team. It can never be easy but man are they something special. The first two periods were certainly concerning, as was Game 5 but funny how a third period for the ages can change all that, at least for now. Not only is it a tremendous weight lifted off the Rangers shoulders having taken care of the series in six games but buying themselves some extra time to rest between now and the start of the Conference Finals is so important. Especially for guys like Fox who are noticeably dealing with something.

With that, the Rangers are the first team to punch their ticket to the Conference Finals and will await a decision in the series between the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins. We’ll have plenty to talk about leading up to that but in the meantime, enjoy this win. It was truly something special to witness. 8 down, 8 to go. Let's keep this thing going!!!