The old warhorse Tom McVie can rest easy. More to the point, so can new kid on the block David Quinn. For after coming up empty his first three tries as head man behind an NHL bench, the Blueshirts coach got his first game puck following his team’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Sharks at the Garden on Thursday night.
As such, McVie’s dubious and record achievement of losing his first 11 games as an NHL head coach with the 1975-76 Capitals (thanks, Elias Sports Bureau) remains safe. By the way, McVie’s first win? Against the Rangers, of course. Ancient history that won’t need to be dug up under Broadway.
“I was thinking during the third period about giving him the puck if we won,” Henrik Lundqvist told The Post. “I know he’s been coaching a long time and won a lot of games in college, and that he’s been an assistant coach before in the NHL, but this is special.
“This is a big deal.”
It was fitting that Lundqvist was the one to make the puck presentation to Quinn in front of the group that included CEO Jim Dolan. For it was the King, on top of his game from start to finish, who was the primary reason the ledger reads 1-3 rather than 0-4. Lundqvist was resolute while his team was outshot 33-15 through two periods and 43-27 overall.
“I like everything about his style,” Lundqvist said of the 52-year-old improper Bostonian, who went 105-61-27 behind the Boston University bench. “I like the way he communicates and interacts with the team, I like the way the whole staff goes about its business to get us prepared. I’m really happy for him.”
After receiving the puck, Quinn told the team he wished he could “cut it into 40 pieces,” according to Chris Kreider. The coach then said the same thing to the media in his postgame briefing, except he said 45 pieces. Maybe he wanted to give pieces to the writers, too.
Alanis Morissette can judge whether it is indeed ironic the Rangers got their first win despite playing 40 minutes of careless hockey against one of the league’s most esteemed teams. The Blueshirts turned the puck over repeatedly and were unable to generate a meaningful forecheck. They spent more time chasing Sharks than Quint did in “Jaws,” in attempts to defend against odd-man rushes that were a consequence of stubborn or careless puck movement.
“Maybe when we play the perceived stronger teams we’re back on our heels too much and give away too much respect,” Kreider said. “But we did make adjustments after the second period, we never stopped working and we did find the way to win. So we’ve got that ‘1’ in the win column instead of a ‘0.’
“And that makes a big difference.”
Brett Howden made a big difference. The 20-year-old freshman center continued to impress, racking up important minutes in key situations while elevated to what essentially was the second line between Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. Howden scored on a gorgeous backhand through his legs from in front to tie the game 1-1 in the first, the score standing after an absurd 6:58 delay to conduct a San Jose offside challenge.
The center was on to start the overtime with Zuccarello and Brady Skjei, who at least partially redeemed what had been a dreadful night by beating Aaron Dell on a left-side wrist shot off his own rush for the unassisted winner at 0:37.
“Patience, poise, speed, tenacity and skill,” Kreider ticked off when asked about Howden’s attributes. “He works hard, he plays north-south. A lot to like.”
On other nights in other years, this victory, achieved after Brendan Smith sent the game into OT by converting Pavel Buchnevich’s backhand centering feed at 17:21 of the third period, might have been discounted. More time would have been spent picking apart the first 40 minutes — “They’re not going to win the Cup playing that way” — than acknowledging the strong final 20-plus. But this isn’t one of those other years.
“We have guys in here who have been through a lot the last few years, but we also have young players, too, and the last thing we need is for doubt to creep in about what we are doing,” Zuccarello said. “People can say that it’s not about winning this year, that it is about rebuilding for the future, but to the players, it is always about winning.
“It’s just one win, yes, but it is a win. Our first one. Our first one for the coach. It means a lot. It removes some doubt. But most important, we are not 0-4. That would have been tough to see, I can tell you that much.”
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