ST. PAUL, Minn. — A simple question turned into coach David Quinn gushing about how important defenseman Marc Staal is to his Rangers.
Staal missed the team’s 4-3 shootout win over the Wild on Thursday night with the flu, and Quinn extended his explanation of how Staal felt worse and worse as the day went on into a testament of how good the veteran defenseman has been of late.
“We missed him,” Quinn said. “Since I’ve been here, he’s [recently] been playing very good hockey. We don’t have guys that do what he does consistently, with his size and his physicality. His puck movement has been really good. He’s been really good for us and we missed him.”
Coming in for Staal was Brendan Smith, who had been a healthy scratch for the past four games and played his first full game at defense all season. Smith had morphed into a fourth-line winger, and he had killed penalties as a defenseman before he lost that role to rookie Ryan Lindgren.
Going directly into Staal’s place next to Tony DeAngelo, Smith played a season-high 17:55, including 2:19 while a man down, earning himself the Broadway Hat.
“Smitty did a good job,” Quinn said. “I really liked Smitty’s game. I was happy for him.”
Artemi Panarin had a goal and an assist, giving him a team-leading 76 points in his historic first season on Broadway. The Russian winger became the first Ranger to reach the 75-point mark in a season since Marian Gaborik in 2011-12. He also joined Mark Messier (1995-96) and Jaromir Jagr (2005-06) as the only Rangers in the past 40 years to reach 75 or more points in the team’s first 56 games.
Quinn challenged a Matt Dumba goal at 7:38 of the second period because of goalie interference on Ryan Hartman and won, getting the goal overturned and keeping the deficit at 2-1.
“Originally I wasn’t [going to challenge],” Quinn said. “Then I watched it one more [time], and [thought], ‘This has to be goalie interference.'”
Quinn is now 2-for-4 on challenges this season, including 1-for-2 on goalie interference calls. He was 1-for-4 on challenges last season, his first behind the Rangers bench.
Rangers winger Kaapo Kakko turned 19 years old on Thursday.