The palpable anticipation that exuded from the stands before Vladimir Tarasenko took the Madison Square Garden ice for the first time in a Rangers sweater was only rivaled by the way they erupted after he scored less than three minutes into the game Friday night.
In that moment, roughly 30 hours after president and general manager Chris Drury traded for Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola, the shift in perception of this Rangers team was apparent, too. It wasn’t just the fact that they defeated the Kraken, 6-3, to pick up their fourth win in a row, but the way the Rangers did it behind their feature reinforcement that has simply made the entire lineup more formidable.
There was a lot to like about the trade with the Blues that unfolded Thursday afternoon, especially the strategic haul of two conditional draft picks, Sammy Blais and prospect Hunter Skinner that Drury sent to St. Louis to make it happen, but there was even more to like after watching Tarasenko in action.
The new-look top line of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Tarasenko was a nightmare to cover in the offensive zone. Kaapo Kakko and the rest of the Kid Line, Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil, were wheeling and dealing all night. Each of the Rangers’ top three lines scored an even-strength goal, while both captain Jacob Trouba and Zibanejad chipped in a power-play tally.
The Kraken may have threatened to rain on the Rangers parade with two goals in the span of 22 seconds in the third period to make it a two-goal game, but the home team — aided by Ryan Lindgren’s first goal of the season into an empty net on a late penalty kill — hung on to ensure their new teammates started their New York tenures on the right foot.
Oh, how the fans roared throughout the game. Everyone seemed to be Back in the New York Groove. Even noted opera singer of the national anthem during the playoffs, John Brancy, broke out a special rendition of New York, New York.
Tarasenko, a 2019 Stanley Cup champion with the Blues, probably said it best Friday morning when he met the New York media for the first time.
“It’s a chance to win a Cup again.”
The 31-year-old Tarasenko knew there was no chance he was staying in St. Louis.
The Blues never offered a deal and since the club is well out of the playoff picture, Tarasenko expected to be moved at some point this season. Change is something the Russian winger said he doesn’t particularly like, citing the fact that he wears the same equipment for many years and won’t switch. A trade was bound to happen, but the safety net of a no-trade clause allowed Tarasenko to have a say in his destination.
Drury has been strategic with the players he’s brought in leading up to the trade deadlines since he took over as the head honcho in New York. Preserving the locker room camaraderie and team dynamic appears to be a priority given the fact that a majority of the players he’s acquired have had pre-existing connections with guys already on the team.
Mikkola, who skated on the bottom defensive pair next to Braden Schneider, said he was greeted by a big smile from Kakko, with whom he played alongside on the Finnish national team in the past. Panarin and Tarasenko have also been good friends since they first played together back in 2011 for Team Russia at the World Juniors. Drury spoke with Panarin, who spoke with Tarasenko and lo and behold, there they were on the ice Friday night connecting for the Rangers’ first goal of the game.
Panarin flew down the right side before dishing to Tarasenko, who sent the puck five-hole on Kraken goalie Martin Jones. With that goal, which came on his first shot during his second shift, Tarasenko became the fourth player in Rangers history to score in the opening three minutes of their team debut.
Tarasenko came to New York to win another Cup. The Rangers certainly look like they’ve taken the right measures to increase their chances of making his wish come true.
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