All of these empty-net goals for Michael Grabner can’t just be considered a matter of circumstance.
No, he is earning these with his speed, intelligence and stick-work in the defensive zone. After scoring a goal conventionally in the second to put the Rangers ahead, Grabner added two empty-netters Friday to earn his fifth career hat trick and help give the Rangers a 5-1 home win over the Hurricanes, and he now has six empty-net goals this season.
Grabner became the first Ranger in the expansion era (since 1967-68) to score two empty-net goals in one game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
And just as he did for a long stretch last season, Grabner now leads the team with 13 goals. He has 40 goals in 102 games as a Ranger and has proven to be an invaluable signing, coming in during the summer of 2016 on a two-year deal with a $ 1.65 million cap hit.
“There’s tons of guys with speed in this game who can really skate, but (Grabner’s) got great hockey sense with it,” said Ryan McDonagh, who played a team-high 22:54 and had an assist after missing the previous four games with an ab strain.
“That’s what allows him to get these opportunities. You see the five-on-five goal that he scored, and even the empty-net goals, he’s not really ever cheating on those. He’s creating opportunities by pressuring d-men and getting to loose pucks when they’re chipped out.”
Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves) let up a bad goal to Justin Williams 56 seconds in after being pulled in the first period on Tuesday but allowed nothing else, even stopping Jeff Skinner on a penalty shot 3:20 into the third.
Michael Grabner potted two empty-netters late in the third after putting the Rangers ahead in the second.
Trailing 1-0 heading through 20 minutes, the Rangers scored twice within the first 1:52 of the second period, and the first of those two was a gift by Hurricanes goaltender Scott Darling, his second present for the Rangers in 10 days.
With the Rangers on their third power play of the night, Darling couldn’t handle a bouncing puck outside his crease, and David Desharnais pounced on the loose puck after Darling’s miscue and with an open net tied the game. On Thanksgiving Eve in Raleigh, Darling whiffed with his glove and surrendered a goal on a red-line floater from Mika Zibanejad, who missed his second game with concussion symptoms.
Just 1:15 later at four-on-four, Kevin Shattenkirk centered for a streaking Grabner off the rush.
“It’s a big relief I think when you go up by two goals and can get those guys down,” Grabner said. “One-goal games, it’s always a little nerve-wracking out there. Just one bad bounce — you saw it in the playoffs last year a lot of times — it can cost you a game.”
Over his three previous seasons before becoming a Ranger, Grabner had 29 goals in 178 games. “I feel comfortable here,” Grabner said. “I like the guys here and it just seems to be a good fit. Just try to enjoy it while it lasts.”