NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The question was, which Rangers team was going to show up against the Predators on Saturday?
Were we going to see the team that held the always-skilled Lightning to just one goal on Tuesday, or the team that allowed the Bruins to rack up a season-high seven goals and skate circles around them last weekend?
From the first period, it was apparent the former team had shown up, as the Rangers held on to defeat the Predators, 2-1.
“I was curious to what was going to happen today,” coach David Quinn said after the win. “We all felt very good about what happened against Tampa. A complete 180 compared to what was going on against the Bruins, but it was a different feel. I was optimistic and felt pretty good about what we were going to see tonight, I just thought it was a continuation of what we did against Tampa.
“I thought our pace was good — we had gaps all over the ice. We had some great scoring chances to make it 3-1 — couldn’t do it. I thought our penalty kill was huge down the stretch and just a gutsy effort.”
Behind Alexandar Georgiev’s 32-save performance, the Blueshirts (5-5-1) held on to an early two-goal lead to pick up their third win in the past four games. Their offense challenged the Predators to keep up with their pace, much like they did against Tampa Bay, while the defense
stood tall and accumulated 14 blocked shots.
“I felt we played really good, really hard and with a lot of speed,” said Georgiev, who made his second consecutive start in net for the first time this season. “We scored in big moments, the penalty kill was really good, and we didn’t allow them to come into the zone many times.”
What’s more notable is how the Rangers have played through their first two contests of the season without first-line center Mika Zibanejad, who was out again Saturday with an upper body injury he sustained in the loss to the Bruins.
The Rangers had the upper hand from the opening seconds, when the Predators took a tripping penalty right out of the gate. It allowed the Blueshirts to dominate possession early, and it seemed to carry over throughout the rest of the period and half of the second period.
Filip Chytil put the Rangers on the board first, at 16:05 of the first period, with his second goal in as many games since receiving the call-up from the AHL earlier in the week. Chris Kreider hustled to join Chytil’s partial breakaway to draw traffic, and the 20-year-old center made a slick move against a Predators’ defender to slide the puck into the back of the net.
Nashville held an 8-7 shots-on-goal advantage heading into the middle frame, but the Rangers’ momentum continued. The Rangers took advantage of a slow change by the Preds and Ryan Strome made it 2-0 following a stellar passing sequence from Jesper Fast and Artemi Panarin.
It was Strome’s fourth goal this season and extended his point streak to six games (four goals, two assists).
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Both Kreider and Kappo Kakko had breakaway opportunities that were spoiled by the post and Predators goaltender Juuse Saros, respectively.
Which was inopportune, as the Predators turned on the pressure and maintained possession in the Rangers’ zone until Tony DeAngelo took a
tired interference penalty, which led to Viktor Arvidsson’s power-play goal at 14:34.
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The Predators looked re-energized following their goal, continuing to smother Georgiev and tire New York late into the second. Strome took a cross-checking penalty just before the third.
“We did a good job in the third,” Quinn said. “I thought the game got a little squirrely when it was 2-0. I thought we kind of abandoned what we were doing to get us that lead. I thought we got a little sloppy and took too many risks. I thought after we settled down after the second period we did a good job of killing that penalty to start the third and we were playing the right way.”
Chytil had the best chance of the third period after he found himself all alone in front of Nashville’s net with just under 10 minutes left in regulation, but he was unable to finesse the puck past Saros’ pads.
The Rangers found themselves on the penalty kill twice in the remaining six minutes of the third, with Brendan Smith called for holding and Libor Hajek called for tripping. Despite a few close calls, the Rangers pulled out the win.
“I think [what happened against Boston] plays a little bit of a role in it,” Quinn said. “But I think we’ve also — there’s some more clarity on what we’re going to have to do to have success. I think our guys understand that, and winning feels good, so these last two nights have been a lot of fun.”