One year ago to the day of Thursday’s 4-0 defeat to the Bruins in Boston, the Rangers were in Denver playing and losing an overtime match to the Avalanche in the team’s final game of the 2019-20 regular season … not that anyone knew it at the time.
“I was actually talking about that with [assistant coach] Jacques Martin on the bus ride over here about that,” David Quinn said. “I vividly remember getting word about an hour before the game that the NBA had paused their season and we certainly knew what was in store for the NHL once that happened.
“We had just come off a great win in Dallas, were back-to-back in Colorado and score the goal late to tie it and looking forward to getting to Phoenix to complete the road trip and make a push to make the playoffs. Unfortunately that never happened.
“The world certainly changed for everybody that day and it seems like it was three years ago and not a year ago,” said the coach. “We’re fortunate to be back playing hockey again.”
Brendan Lemieux and Libor Hajek were reinstated into the lineup following healthy scratches on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, replacing Phil Di Giuseppe and Jack Johnson, respectively.
Quinn said that Lemieux, who has posted four points (1-3) on the season while being held off the board entirely over his past 11 games, needs more “consistency” in his game to avoid sitting again.
“He has good shifts, but his consistency is something he has to improve on,” the coach said. “He knows that, we’ve had talks, we had a good talk the other day. It’s just the consistency aspect of it.
“He knows what his game is, he’s a guy who has to play physically consistently and an up-and-down north game and if he does that he’s going to be able to contribute offensively. That’s something he’s still finding. He understands that.”
Lemieux, who’d been averaging 10:47 per, played 12:22 and was bumped up to a line with Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko for a few shifts as Quinn shuffled all of his combinations, most more than once. Lemieux did not have a shot, was not on for a goal-against, and recorded three hits.
Hajek was scratched for the first time in 15 games since his promotion from the taxi squad because, said Quinn: “After playing some pretty good hockey, [there] was a downtick in his play so we gave him the night off.”
Paired on the left with Brendan Smith, Hajek was even in 14:14 of work.
The coach added that Johnson is still not fully healthy as he continues to recover from the groin injury he sustained on Jan. 26 that sidelined him for the next eight games.
This was the second shutout of the season against the Rangers for Jaroslav Halak, who faced 27 shots, the most difficult on Ryan Lindgren’s breakaway backhand with 5:40 remaining in the second period after the defenseman popped out of the penalty box.
Halak, who’d recorded a 1-0, 22-save victory at the Garden on Feb. 12, has a career 24-8-1 record against the Blueshirts with a .929 save percentage, 2.28 GAA and five shutouts.