In a tight hockey game, the difference between winning and losing can come down to a single play or strategic maneuver to get a team going. It could be a big save by a goalie, a fight, a well-placed time out, or one of many other possibilities. For the New York Rangers on Sunday night, it was seeing one of their top players lay on the ice after getting hit head-first in to the boards. Two quick power play goals after and two shootout goals got the Blueshirts the two points they needed against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden.
After an uneventful first period, the Sabres drew first blood midway through the second. On a faceoff in the Rangers zone, rookie Mikhail Grigorenko won the draw to Drew Stafford. The Sabres RW quickly got the shot off and beat Henrik Lundqvist to give Buffalo the lead. It was a busy period for Lundqvist, but he stopped the other 13 shots he faced in the frame.
The Rangers power play wasted no time getting one back for Richards. Seven seconds after the Kaleta penalty, Derek Stepan scored on the 5-on-3 from the doorstep (Rick Nash & Marian Gaborik on the assists) to tie the game. 43 seconds after that, Rick Nash fired a shot by Ryan Miller on the power play (Gaborik & Michael Del Zotto on the assists) to give the Rangers their first lead of the game. The 2-1 lead would only last for four minutes, as Nathan Gerbe scored on a shorthanded rush (Steve Ott with the assist) to tie the game at two. A late Rick Nash penalty in regulation (delay of game) and an early Dan Girardi boarding call in OT led to Buffalo having a 5-on-3 for 40 seconds. Lundqvist stayed strong between the pipes, turning away all seven shots in the extra period to send the game to a shootout. Nash and Ryan Callahan both scored on the Rangers first two attempts, while Lundqvist turned away attempts from Jason Pominville and Tyler Ennis to get the victory.
The Blueshirts were happy to get the two points, but the talk was all about Patrick Kaleta hit in the Rangers locker room after the game. “It pisses you off and gets you angry,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “It was a cheap hit. The biggest thing is that you want to hurt them, and were able to get two. It doesn’t do that kind of hit any justice, but it was nice to score on the power play.”
“It’s probably one of the most dangerous hits I’ve ever seen,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said after the game. “It’s disgusting. It’s a lack of respect. Each team wants to beat the other team, but you have to respect what’s going on, on the ice.”
Richards was also available for comment, and said “If we’re all gonna look at each other’s numbers and ram each other from behind head-first into the boards, it’s gonna be a tough game to play. That’s not hockey.” On the type of player Patrick Kaleta is, Richards stated “I don’t know what game he plays, actually. “He doesn’t play hockey to begin with. Same guy, all the time.”
Kaleta’s check from behind is going to cost him five games (and $76,219.25 in salary). As explained by NHL Disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, “In spite of the fact that Kaleta doesn’t shove Richards with great force, he does so at a dangerous distance from the boards” Shanahan went on to explain in the NHL’s suspension video, “Kaleta is in full control of this play and has ample opportunity to make a better decision.” Kaleta has had prior suspensions. He was suspended four games for a head butting incident on 11/3/11 against the Flyers. He was also fined for a head-butting incident in 2010, and was suspended for two games for another boarding incident back in 2009.
Nobody wants to ever see a player get hurt or have a close call like Brad Richards had. But it sparked the Rangers, and they responded in a much better way than any fists could have doled out. Kaleta will miss the next meeting with the Rangers on 3/12 (that will be game four of his suspension). But it’s a safe bet that Kaleta will have to drop the gloves when they meet for the final time in the regular season on April 19th at the First Niagara Center.