K’Andre Miller plays the unexpected hero in the Rangers’ return

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 29: New York Rangers Defenseman K'Andre Miller (79) skates during New York Rangers Prospect Development Camp on June 29, 2018 at the MSG Training Center in New York, NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Miller had never partaken in an NHL shootout before putting in the winner for the Rangers in Tuesday’s win over Boston.

Miller time had a whole new meaning on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Those that missed the New York Rangers over the last two weeks had their fill and then some on Tuesday night, when the Blueshirts needed three periods, five minutes of overtime, and nine rounds of a shootout to earn a 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins. It was the Rangers’ first contest since Feb. 1 and their first of the post-All-Star slate.

After a comeback effort that saw New York (31-13-4) tie the game in the third period through Filip Chytil’s fifth goal of the season (earned in his first appearance since Jan. 22 thanks to a lower-body injury), goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Jeremy Swayman went toe-to-toe from there on out, the battle only paused when the former was forced to leave the game in the final minute of the extra period by the game’s concussion spotter. Aided by a Rangers timeout, Shesterkin returned in time to stop seven of nine Boston shootout attempts, including each of his final six.

Tuesday’s decider saw each team roll out its usual shooting suspects to earn the important extra point: Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin each scored for the Rangers while Boston (27-16-4) scored on its first and third attempts via Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle (who also put in the Bruins’ lone regulation goal in the first period). Subsequent participants denied by Shesterkin and Swayman included David Pastrnak, Adam Fox, Taylor Hall, and Chris Kreider.

The shootout proceedings were nothing near Marek Malik-levels of desperation, but the Rangers turned to another defenseman (following bottom-six forward reps Chytil and Dryden Hunt in ultimately futile showings) for their ninth attempt. Miller had not appeared in a single NHL shootout before has was called upon on Tuesday.

What ensued was a New York walk-off in the bottom of the ninth, even though the Mets and Yankees continue to work through a labor hiatus. A swift pace, savvy backhand, and accurate shot from the Blueshirts’ young blueliner beat Swayman and ignited a Garden party. It marks the Rangers’ third win a row, all coming at MSG as the end of a five-game homestand arrives on Thursday against Detroit (7 p.m. ET, MSG).

After the game, Miller acknowledged that those gathered at MSG weren’t the only ones surprised to see him on the ice in the final extra sessions. The 22-year-old mentioned that the enlistment was anything but voluntary.

“Coach (Gerard Gallant) kind of turned to me when their guy was up, and I was like, ‘Really? Like, you want me to go?’ Am I hearing this right?” Miller said in the aftermath, per Mollie Walker of the New York Post. “But no, it was a fun opportunity, and I’m glad I made the most of it.”

Two of the three wins in the Rangers’ latest winning streak have now been earned through a Miller game-winner: his goal in the final minute of a Jan. 30 visit from Seattle was previously the vital tally of a 3-2 triumph.

Though Miller got off to a slow start to open the 2021-22 season, Gallant spoke highly of his young defenseman’s blooming confidence as the latter stages of the regular season loom. Thus, turning to him in a vital shootout against a fellow Eastern Conference playoff contender at that stage was, in the head coach’s mind, a no-brainer.

“From (November on, he’s been really confident. Like any other young defenseman, they play really well, make some real good plays, and then they make some bad plays, a couple defensive-zone plays. That’s every player in the NHL,” Gallant explained. “But he’s confident, he feels good about his game and scoring the shootout winner is pretty good for him tonight.”

The Rangers’ 2021-22 season has been defined by a flair for the dramatics and success in the NHL’s polarizing shootout proceedings have only added to that trend. New York improved to 4-1 in shootouts this season (Shesterkin now stands at 3-0), now armed with a win tally that’s best in the Eastern Conference and tied with Minnesota and Vegas for the most in the league.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags