Kevin Klein celebrates a goal to put the Rangers up 1-0 on the Devils.
Alain Vigneault ripped the NHL on Monday morning and his Rangers edged the Devils at night. Their coach’s rant could draw a fine, but the team’s mostly smothering 2-1 victory at the Garden gave the Blueshirts their first three-game winning streak since Nov. 15 – even if it concluded with an unsettling finish.
Vigneault was red-hot that the league did not fine or suspend Flyers agitator Wayne Simmonds for Saturday’s sucker-punch of Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who has a concussion and no timetable for a return.
“What I didn’t expect was the reaction from the league,” Vigneault said. “An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down. I wonder if that’s (Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney) Crosby what happens, or what the consequence is?”
That comment adds intrigue to a huge Wednesday night showdown in Pittsburgh, the first of four Ranger meetings with Crosby’s Penguins that carry heavy playoff implications. The Pens (27-18-7, 61 points) have jumped the Islanders (60 points) into third place in the Metropolitan Division behind the second-place Rangers (30-18-5, 65 points), and Crosby has scored in seven straight games.
He might be the only player hotter than Rangers forward J.T. Miller, a Pittsburgh area product with nine goals in his last 10 games who went five-hole on the Devils’ Cory Schneider (35 saves) at 4:37 of Monday’s third period to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. Keith Yandle’s power-play turnover cost Henrik Lundqvist (27 saves) the Rangers’ first shutout victory since Nov. 23, as Devils center Travis Zajac capitalized with a shorthanded goal at 17:43. But the Devils’ frantic final push with Schneider on the bench came up empty.
Henrik Lundqvist makes one of his 27 saves on Monday night.
Right-handed defenseman Dan Boyle played on the left side with McDonagh sidelined, paired with rookie Dylan McIlrath in a patchwork that Vigneault envisions continuing. Blueliner Kevin Klein, with his broken right thumb, scored at 4:47 of the second period off a great Mats Zuccarello feed.
“With Mac out, everyone has to play better, and we were better as a ‘D’ corps. We were solid,” alternate captain Marc Staal (assist) said after a physical outing.
The Rangers mostly dominated puck possession against the fifth-place Devils (26-21-7, 59 points) and their jittery defense. The Blueshirts’ fruitless power play (0-for-5) slipped to 2-for-49 in its last 17 games, though, and Rick Nash (left leg bone bruise) missed a sixth straight game. Nash also is doubtful at best to travel to Pittsburgh. Vigneault said Nash has backed off his skating and stayed off ice for three straight days because the injury is not progressing as doctors had hoped.
GM Jeff Gorton, meanwhile, continues to monitor an evolving trade market approaching the Feb. 29 trade deadline. St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk presumably is unavailable with fellow Blues righty Alex Pietrangelo (right knee) out at least three weeks. The $ 38 million extension Winnipeg gave to Dustin Byfuglien suggests that Jets unrestricted free agent forward Andrew Ladd could be moved.
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