With Laviolette Pushing Right Buttons, Resilient Rangers Look Like Cup Contenders

Pat Pickens
Last Updated: Feb 19, 2024

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rangers coach Peter Laviolette has a history of turning championship-caliber teams quickly.

And he’s doing it again in New York.

The Rangers’ stars and power play earned the credit for their wild, come-from-behind 6-5 overtime win over the rival New York Islanders in the 2024 NHL Stadium Series at MetLife Stadium. But Laviolette’s fingerprints were all over the win.

Laviolette has expertly navigated coaching an Original Six team with a starving fan base and a fledgling goalie controversy between two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick and 2022 Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin to the top of the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers sit tied for second in the Eastern Conference, even with the Boston Bruins at 75 points and just one point back of the conference-leading Florida Panthers.

They’ve reached the top with a never-say-die mindset, leading the NHL in both comeback wins (18) and third-period comeback victories (9). They capped their largest come-from-behind win of the season, after spotting the Isles a 4-1 advantage just 21:03 in, by scoring five of the final six goals, including Artemi Panarin’s winner at 10 seconds of OT.

But the Rangers may have fallen short without Laviolette’s aggressiveness, and he continues to press all the right buttons. Trailing 5-3 with 5:44 left and with a four-on-three power play after Mathew Barzal was sent off for hooking, Laviolette pulled a play from rival coach Patrick Roy’s book by pulling Shesterkin for a two-man advantage with more than five minutes left.

“I know there’s close to six minutes left on the clock, but we’re down by two goals” Laviolette said, “If you do the math, if we’re not successful inside of that four-on-three, which is a tough power play at times, you’re going to be at 3:50 [left], and you’ll have used the guys you wanted to.

“We decided that it was time to pull the goalie and go five-on-three, which gives us a better opportunity to score a goal.”

Chris Kreider scored a six-on-four goal after Vincent Trocheck came out of the box that cut the deficit to one, and when Scott Mayfield took a tripping penalty less than two minutes later, Laviolette got Shesterkin out again right away.

The result of that six-on-four advantage was Mika Zibanejad’s game-tying goal that sent the pro-Rangers crowd of 79,690 to bedlam with just 1:29 left.

“I thought our power-play guys at the end of the game, in the biggest of moments, in the biggest of circumstances, they really delivered,” Laviolette said. “There were lots of keys to that game, but that had to happen at the end.”

The Rangers’ stars rewarded Laviolette’s faith by scoring three times in the final 4:18, including Panarin’s controversial game-winner. But they also appreciated his belief in them.

“I think he showed how much confidence he had in the group,” Trocheck said. “We did a great job of getting pucks back and recoveries.”

Trocheck rightly pointed out defensive Adam Fox’s exceptional play to bat down a clearing attempt at the Isles blue line right before Kreider’s goal that negated a game-sealing empty-netter. But the fact New York was still in it for Fox’s play was also due to Laviolette’s risky time out after the Rangers fell behind 3-1 just 7:34 in.

The timeout negated Laviolette’s ability to challenge any controversial calls thereafter and actually necessitated his early goalie pull.

“For me, it was a chance to stop the game,” Laviolette said. “We wouldn’t have written it up this way, to go down 3-1 halfway through the first period, but it was a chance to reset and refocus and try and win the last part of that period, and I thought our guys were able to start to turn the game around.”

Laviolette’s message, which after the first period he said was “do more,” typically has a shelf life. He hasn’t coached more than six full seasons in any of his five previous coaching stints, including Carolina where he won the Stanley Cup in 2006.

But for the Rangers, who have not won the Stanley Cup in 30 years yet have a roster capable of challenging for it this season, Laviolette looks like a perfect fit right now.


Pat Pickens

Pat Pickens is a seasoned sportswriter who has covered the NHL since 2013 for various websites, including The New York Times, NHL.com, Sportsnet.ca, USA Today, the Associated Press and many others. His debut book, titled "The Whalers" about the history of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, was released in October 2021.

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