After propelling the Rangers to a 6-3 win over the Devils with three goals Saturday afternoon, Pavel Buchnevich admitted a hat trick was one of the better birthday gifts he had given himself.
It was the first three-goal game of his career and allowed the Rangers to pull within four points of the fourth playoff spot in the East Division. If that isn’t special enough, Buchnevich also became the first player in franchise history to record a hat trick on his birthday.
“But it’s only once a year,” Buchnevich said with a smile.
Asked about his growth over his five seasons in New York, Buchnevich said he is starting to understand his role and what coaches want from him better than ever before.
The 26-year-old winger got the Rangers going at 7:26 of the first period, burying a pass from Mika Zibanejad on a 2-on-1 rush for a 1-0 lead.
“It’s been a lot of fun playing alongside him and seeing his growth over the years I’ve been here with him,” Zibanejad said. “I feel like he does it all now. He works hard, but obviously, he’s one of the top skill guys, I would say.”
Later in the first, Devils defenseman Damon Severson then took a holding penalty to prevent Brett Howden from jumping out on a breakaway less than a minute before the Devils were called for too many men on the ice. That gave the Rangers a 5-on-3 opportunity, and Ryan Strome took advantage with a one-timer to make it a 2-0 game.
Buchnevich netted his second of the day at 11:48 of the first to become the Rangers’ leading scorer this season. His empty-net tally in the third brought his goal total to 19, two away from his career-high 21 in 2018-19.
“Just an overall maturity,” head coach David Quinn said of the strides Buchnevich has taken. “The fact that he’s got the ability to play a 200 foot game and he certainly has done it all year, and for a guy to have the stats he has without being on our top power-play unit certainly speaks volumes to the year he’s having.”
Chris Kreider scored his first goal since March 28 on an empty net at 19:38 of the third period to put the game out of reach.
The Devils had pulled their goalie, Aaron Dell, for the 6-on-5 advantage. Kreider hasn’t recorded an even-strength goal since March 13, with his last three before Saturday coming on the power play.
“Goal-scoring is so streaky. It’s not just in our locker room but throughout the league,” Quinn said. “Sometimes when you get one regardless of how you get it, more follow. That’s kind of how it’s gone for most goal scorers in this league. It’s certainly gone that way for Chris since he’s been here.
“I liked his game leading into that empty-net goal, I thought you could see that he was doing a lot of good things. I thought this game certainly was on the uptick leading into that goal.”