Kevin Hayes’ late-game heroics give Rangers 2-1 edge over Jets

December 12, 2016 12:54
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Time will tell what kind of impact the Rangers' 2-1 victory over Winnipeg Thursday night at MTS Centre will have, but it's not a stretch to consider it one of their most significant results of the year.

Because this was a victory unlike any the shorthanded Rangers (18-9-1) have had so far, one in which they earned two points by scoring two or fewer goals, putting forth a stout defensive performance to limit the Jets (13-14-3) to 18 shots while generating 24 of their own, the last of which was a game-winning, power-play goal by Kevin Hayes with 1:09 remaining in regulation.

Often winning by scoring goals in bunches, the Rangers are now 1-7-1 this season when scoring two or fewer goals and are 9-0-1 after a loss. They held the Jets to just five shots and nine attempts in the third.

"I think it's pretty important," Dan Girardi told the Daily News of winning in such fashion. "That was just a good, grindy, road-game third period. That's kind of what we need to get back to a little bit."

Kevin Hayes (c.) was the late-game hero for the Rangers. (John Woods/AP)

They won this game without Rick Nash (groin) and Jimmy Vesey (upper body,) taking 20 more goals out of a lineup already missing key forwards in Mika Zibanejad (broken left fibula) and Pavel Buchnevich (back). Vesey remains day-to-day while Nash is out a week.

Holding Winnipeg's rookie sensation Patrik Laine to zero shots proved pivotal as the 18-year-old No. 2 overall pick in June's draft has 17 goals this season, all but three coming at home.

"I just happened to see a stat that he had 14 goals in 14 games in this rink," Girardi said. "Obviously it was nice to not let him get one tonight."

Mark Scheifele put Winnipeg on the board in the second period. (JOHN WOODS/AP)

The game could've been blown open in the first when the Rangers put forth a strong 20 minutes and came out with a 1-0 lead, courtesy of Chris Kreider's power-play goal off crisp passes from Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. They had a number of great looks with Winnipeg goaltender Michael Hutchinson out of position.

"We should've had three or four empty-netters and they didn't go in," Hayes said.

Winnipeg ramped up the pressure in the second with their defensemen more active in the attack, and after hitting a couple of posts they found an equalizer by Mark Scheifele midway through the period.

Chris Kreider scored for the Rangers in the first period. (JOHN WOODS/AP)

The Rangers killed off two penalties in the third before getting another power-play goal, winning the special-teams battle (3-for-3 penalty kill, 2-for-4 power play) they always say is so crucial, especially in a tight game.

"I think the coaches love it," a smiling Antti Raanta, who made 17 saves, said of the low-scoring victory. "It's a great thing to have this kind of win. That was our game plan, what we wanted to do. We wanted to play defense and play smart."

Alain Vigneault responded to Raanta's comment with his own grin. "I love wins. The score doesn't really matter."

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