BOSTON — Though preseason games are a time for NHL teams to experiment with their lineups, evaluate prospects and get a wide-scope look at every player in the organization, teams always want to — at the least — be competitive.
That hasn’t always been the case for the 2021-22 Rangers, but Saturday night, they were. They followed an egregious six-goal loss to the Devils with a gutsy 4-3 overtime win over the Bruins at TD Garden.
The Rangers, like every other team, have dressed lineups that are mixed with NHL stalwarts, bubble players and prospects with little professional experience. Such was the case in the Rangers’ first preseason win. In that 3-2 victory Tuesday in their first meeting with the Bruins, Boston deployed just a handful of players who will actually make the varsity squad.
As soon as the Rangers took the ice Saturday night, however, that Tuesday game quickly became a distant memory. After facing a Bruins lineup that was headlined by Trent Frederic and Curtis Lazar, the Rangers felt the wrath of Boston’s top line — Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak — as well as some of their top defensemen.
Each member of that Bruins line, the Perfection Line as some call it, lit the lamp once against Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev in the first period Saturday. Marchand even finessed a shorthanded tally, flashing his ridiculous stickhandling ability to put the Bruins up 3-1.
But a power-play goal from Sammy Blais off a long shot from Nils Lundkvist and Kevin Rooney’s shorthanded penalty-shot goal forced 3-on-3 overtime. In the extra period, Alexis Lafreniere finished the Rangers’ comeback, intercepting a botched clearing attempt by goalie Linus Ullmark and backhanding it in.
“They got a lot of their good guys playing, their D and stuff like that, but I thought we just competed,” said Ryan Strome, who knotted the game 1-1 in the first period. “I think guys had a good effort and got rewarded. These preseason games, you don’t always want to measure with wins and losses, but I think it’s good to see a good effort and especially after [Saturday] night.”
Plus, the Rangers were without Artemi Panarin. Head coach Gerard Gallant is keeping him out until he eventually deploys the “full team in the next two games.” Panarin posted a three-point night in the Rangers’ victory over the Bruins on Tuesday.
With the quick turnaround before facing Boston, a majority of the lineup that had defeated the Bruins at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday took the ice Saturday. A few players who skated Friday against the Devils played again — including Lundkvist, Blais Julien Gauthier, Morgan Barron, Greg McKegg, Lauri Pajuniemi and Dryden Hunt.
The squad that suffered a 4-0 thumping by the Islanders in the preseason opener on Sept. 26 — in which lineup guarantees such as Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Filip Chytil, Barclay Goodrow, Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller played — also played in the loss to the Devils.
“I’m glad our team bounced back,” Gallant said. “Because I would have been pretty disappointed if we didn’t play the way I expected us to play tonight after last night’s game.”
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