This was hope, encapsulated.
Through all of the Rangers’ struggles in their opening month, through all of the difficult moments that colored the start of this season in such a drab light, there remained an undercurrent that all was not lost. Not yet, at least.
And then something like this happens, a 4-1 win over the Lightning on Tuesday night at the Garden when youth was served aplenty.
The first goal of the game was the second of his career for 18-year-old Kaapo Kakko; the second of the game was the first of the season for 20-year-old Filip Chytil, having just been recalled from AHL Hartford on Monday; and the third of the game was the first of his career for 21-year-old defenseman Adam Fox, who might have been the best player on the ice all night.
“We obviously think an awful lot of these young players,” said coach David Quinn, whose cries for an increase in competitiveness were answered with enthusiasm. “When you’re in the National Hockey League at that age, you’re going to have your peaks and valleys.”
This was a test for the Rangers (4-5-1) on so many levels, the first being able to bounce back from the atrocious 7-4 loss suffered at the hands of the visiting Bruins on Sunday night. Maybe it was better that a team like the Lightning (5-4-1) came in next, not off to the best start but still one of the league’s elite.
“I think guys were truly embarrassed about what happened [Sunday] night,” Quinn said. “I think guys looked in the mirror and realized what they were going to have to do if we were going to have a chance.”
Without top-line center Mika Zibanejad, listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury, it was Chytil filling the void. His line with Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich was a force, winning battles all over the ice and getting a plethora of chances. The game turned when Buchnevich won the puck in the neutral zone, flew up the right wing and tossed a saucer pass to Chytil, who tipped it out of the air and over the glove of outstanding goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy at 12:46 of the third, giving the Rangers a 2-1 lead.
“It’s always nice when you score a goal here in this arena,” said the smiling Chytil, who played 75 games for the Blueshirts last season but just couldn’t get a handle on the second-line center role in training camp, going down to the Wolf Pack where he had three goals and nine points in nine games before his recall.
“I was excited before the game to be back here, to play in front of this crowd and in front of the people in New York,” said the No. 21-overall pick from 2017. “It’s nice to be back, nice to be back with a winning game. Have to keep going.”
Also coming up with Chytil was 21-year-old defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who added some edge while making veteran Marc Staal a healthy scratch for the first time in his 13-year career. With 23-year-old goalie Alexandar Georgiev excelling while making 29 saves, it was a party for those that straddled the line of the legal drinking age.
“We haven’t really been able to put together a real 60 minutes. We had good periods and really bad ones,” said Fox, who was able to bat in a rebound at 17:24 of the third and give his team a nice 3-1 cushion. “To put together a good 60 against a good team, that’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
The game was fast and physical from the start, and Nikita Kucherov made the Rangers pay for a bad line change, giving his team a 1-0 lead at 15:44 of the first. But Kakko answered, scoring on the power play when his shot was stopped by Vasilevskiy but deflected in off the skate of defenseman Braydon Coburn.
It was that kind of night, a bright spot in what has been a month of mostly gloom. After Ryan Strome ended it into the empty net, t The hope for the Rangers is that the jolt from this injection of youth doesn’t wear off overnight.
“I thought our guys did a hell of job rallying around each other,” Quinn said, “and playing the way they need to play in order to get two points.”