Ryan Reaves revelry defines Rangers’ latest win

Ryan Reaves’ birthday celebration guided the New York Rangers back from a 3-1 deficit at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.

Aside from joining the New York Rangers in the latter stages of their respective NHL careers, Ryan Reaves and Wayne Gretzky don’t appear in the same sentence very often. Wednesday night provided a welcome exception.

Gretzky was among the first people that Reaves spoke to after the latter played a major role in the modern Rangers’ 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden. Reaves helped the Rangers (26-10-4) erase a pair of two-goal deficits with two scores of his own, earning his first tallies as a Blueshirt in the comeback effort. It was his first multi-goal game since April 2013, when he netted two as a member of the St. Louis Blues.

Reaves’ reward was a postgame interview with the “NHL on TNT” crew, featuring Gretzky and his fellow analysts Paul Bissonnette and Anson Carter, as well as host Liam McHugh.

As if his first New York goals weren’t enough of a birthday present for Reaves, whose Wednesday heroics came mere hours before he turned 35, he was interviewed by the legendary Gretzky on the MSG ice. Gretzky informed Reaves that everyone in TNT’s Atlanta studio was pulling for him to earn one of the most unexpected hat tricks in recent NHL memory. Known more for his physicality, Reaves has earned 51 goals in 12 seasons.

To the credit of Reaves’ Ranger teammates, they tried all they could to get Reaves a third goal after Toronto pulled goalie Jack Campbell in the final minutes of the third period. It got to the point where Reaves’ fellow Blueshirts encouraged him to stay on the ice to get that final tally.

Reaves, however, was eager to get back to the bench for his own sake.

“The bench kept telling me to stay out. I was like ‘stay out’? I’m going to be in the middle of the ice just in a coma!” Reaves told the TNT crew with a laugh. “I don’t need that!”

Reaves’ first Ranger goals were a long time coming. Though he was brought in for his physicality, he had several scoring opportunities over the recent prior games. He previously had two-points efforts (coming through assists) on Nov. 24 against the Islanders and Dec. 7 in Chicago.

Wednesday’s nationally televised showcase provided a great opportunity for the Rangers’ fourth line, also featuring Greg McKegg and Kevin Rooney. McKegg earned the primary assist on Reaves’ first goal and the group earned a plus-2 mark on the evening. The unit’s Wednesday efforts drew praise from defending Norris winner Adam Fox, who had two goals and an assist.

“That line has brought energy when needed and it hasn’t always resulted in goals, but when you see them get rewarded like that, it obviously lifts the whole team up,” Fox told Mollie Walker of the New York Post. “Big goals, too. Credit to that line. They were unreal tonight.”

Fox had the secondary assist on Reaves’ first goal. His second, coming early in the second period, ignited a streak of five unanswered Ranger goals.

The efforts were highlighted by Reaves, who earned his first goal since March 17 of last season, his last of four years with the Vegas Golden Knights. His New York arrival afforded him a reunion with head coach Gerard Gallant, who, like Reaves, was part of the original Vegas group that went to the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion team in 2018.

Reaves’ scoring efforts were well-celebrated by his teammates, with whom he has formed a strong sense of chemistry and camaraderie. In the lead-up to Toronto’s visit, the Rangers’ official Twitter account showcased a new talent from Reaves, in which he interviewed players during practice. Such antics, as well his propensity to create on-ice chaos, have made him an instant fan favorite amongst the Ranger faithful, who showed their appreciation by chanting “Reavo” as the final minutes ticked away.

Reaves was pleased that Wednesday’s game could showcase not only what he’s capable of, but what the Rangers can do as a whole. The win over the Maple Leafs (24-10-3) allowed the Blueshirts to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division from the Carolina Hurricanes. Though Carolina has four games in hand, the teams will square off for the first time this season on Friday night in Raleigh (7 p.m. ET, MSG).

“(Wednesday’s game) shows that we can we can hang with the big boys…that we are one of the big boys. We’ve got to keep beating the playoff teams. That’s something we’ve talked about, but I think we’re proving to the league that we’re a contender,” Reaves said, per ESPN. “I think we know it. I think maybe some of the league doesn’t believe it, but let them keep (not) believing it. We’re gonna keep doing our thing and, I mean, the standings don’t lie.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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