Just the other day, Ryan Reaves said this is the time for the Rangers to start preparing for the playoffs.
To learn how to skate with the top-tier teams, how to push them out of the building and how to prove that the Rangers are not only a playoff team, but one that can actually make a run at the Stanley Cup. Reaves and the rest of the Rangers’ fourth line set that example in the 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs Wednesday night, with Reaves chipping in two goals to propel his team to a third straight win.
“You never want to go three months without scoring, I tend to do that a lot in my career,” said Reaves, whose goals were his first with the Rangers. “But it feels good to get them out of the way, especially in this barn. Hopefully, they keep coming now.”
The Rangers credited the fourth line for snapping them out of their first-period funk, which resulted in a 3-1 deficit heading into the middle frame. Reaves’ first tally of the night came in the first period before his second made it 3-2 just under three minutes into the second.
Coach Gerard Gallant deployed the fourth unit the most at even strength, according to Natural Stat Trick. Reaves, Kevin Rooney and Greg McKegg drove the forecheck and ultimately generated six scoring chances.
“For our line, it’s not always going to be a goal, but it’s going to be energy, it’s going to be a hit, it’s going to be a shift in their zone, especially against some of their top guys,” Reaves said. “We had some good shifts against the [Auston] Matthews line, especially. For us, when we have started like, you definitely want to grab some momentum.”
Reaves noted his chemistry with Rooney and McKegg has progressed as the season has gone on, pointing out that they’re finding open ice better. He said he believes Wednesday was the trio’s best game thus far.
“I think we’ve said it all year, that line has brought energy when needed and it hasn’t always resulted in goals, but when you see them get rewarded like that, it obviously lifts the whole team up,” defenseman Adam Fox said. “Big goals, too. Credit to that line. They were unreal tonight.”
Alexis Lafreniere cleared COVID-19 protocol and was activated, allowing the 20-year-old winger to compete in his first game in over a week. Though Dryden Hunt came off injured reserve and was cleared to play, Gallant opted to scratch Hunt in favor of McKegg.
The Rangers honored Teddy Balkind, the Connecticut high school player who was killed during a hockey game this month, by hanging his No. 5 jersey behind the benchjust before Wednesday’s win. In addition to wearing Balkind and his No. 5 on their warm-up jerseys, the Rangers also invited all of Balkind’s teammates to the game.
The NHL announced a series of schedule updates that included four Rangers games, three of which had to be rescheduled due to COVID-19-related postponements.
Those matchups include the Dec. 27 contest with the Red Wings, now slated for Feb. 17, the Nov. 20 game against the Senators, which has been rescheduled for Feb. 20, as well as the Dec. 22 tilt with the Canadiens, now set for April 27.
The Rangers’ game against the Bruins on April 24 has also been moved up to Feb. 15.