(Photo: Andrew Nelles/AP)
This was a game for the new guys to shine.
From the opening minute of Friday’s game at the United Center, the New York Rangers took the lead over the Chicago Blackhawks and never looked back. Their 4-1 victory over the Blackhawks was largely due to the efforts put forth by the younger players, those fighting for a permanent spot on the team and setting out to prove themselves as full-time NHL players.
The game started off quickly. Rangers rookie forward Oscar Lindberg one-timed a pass from Lee Stempniak 51 seconds into the first period and found the back of the net to give New York an almost immediate 1-0 lead. This goal set the tone for the first 20 minutes of play, and the Rangers showed energy and momentum while the Blackhawks struggled to find their game early on.
At the midway point of the first period, another Rangers rookie forward, Anthony Duclair, converted a cross-ice pass from Rick Nash to put New York up 2-0; Duclair’s goal would ultimately become the game-winner.
“I can’t put it into words, but I am probably the happiest kid in the world,” Duclair said in an interview during the first intermission. “I’m trying to make this team for sure. I’m not a kid looking to go back to juniors.”
Duclair certainly made his presence known, leading the Rangers with five shots on goal and tallying an assist on teammate J.T. Miller‘s power play goal midway through the third period. Marek Hrivik, another forward looking for a spot on the Rangers’ final roster, closed out the scoring for New York with an oddly angled chip shot from his knees with 3:32 remaining.
Not a single goal in this win came from a veteran; this was a game to demonstrate the Rangers’ potential depth.
“I like the way a lot of our young guys got their first opportunity and came out on the ice and contributed,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault after the game. “It was an exhibition game, but there were some real positive signs.”
Vigneault added that Duclair’s strong play was “creating an impression” and that the other newcomers were stepping up and showing their worth as well.
“[The rookies’] job is to make our decision real hard,” Vigneault said in regard to deciding on a finalized, regular season roster.
Though the Blackhawks outshot the Rangers 31-29, they were only able to get one goal past the combined efforts of Henrik Lundqvist and Cedrick Desjardins; Chicago rookie Dennis Rasmussen scored midway through the second to bring the Blackhawks within one goal (2-1), but the Rangers never relinquished their lead. Lundqvist stopped 15 of the 16 shots he faced while Desjardins saved 15 of 15, making some key saves toward the end of the third period to keep any chance of a Blackhawks comeback at bay.
With this win, the Rangers improve to 1-1-0 in preseason play while the Blackhawks fall to 1-2-0. The Rangers return home to face the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday at Madison Square Garden.