Brendan Smith turns into Rangers’ unsung hero

Here’s one for you. When Brendan Smith drew a cross-checking penalty from Tage Thompson when the young Buffalo winger retaliated for a big hit at 11:08, that marked the 19th minor penalty drawn this season by No. 42, as recorded by Evolving-Hockey.

That, ladies and gents and boys and girls, leads the entire NHL in that category.

Smith was an unsung hero in the Blueshirts’ 3-1 victory over the Sabres at the Garden on Tuesday, also scoring the game’s first goal at 2:22 of the second period following an opening 20 minutes in which the Rangers were outplayed decisively.

He has provided energy, he has provided insight and experience, and he was stout on the blue line in this one as coach David Quinn largely cut down to four defensemen in the third, doling out one shift worth 49 seconds to Zac Jones and three for 2:09 for Libor Hajek. Smith played 8:19 in the period, 20:22 for the night.

“You’re in this business because you’re optimistic about winning. I mean you don’t go to the rink thinking you’re going to lose, ever,” Smith said when asked if a month or six weeks ago he could have foreseen this charge. “We always envisioned winning.

“We’re in the business of winning so you try to make sure you get yourself prepared physically and mentally every night. Once you do that, you give yourself the best chance to win and we’ve done that.

Brendan Smith (center) is making big plays for the Rangers.
Brendan Smith (center) is making big plays for the Rangers.

“People are kind of falling into place and if we could keep this going, it would be something to really be excited about and we would like to do it for the team and for the fans and for everybody.”

Jacob Trouba missed his fourth game since banging his head against the glass on that Matt Martin check at the Coliseum on April 20. It is unclear whether No. 8 is a possibility for Thursday’s Garden opener of a home-and-home against the Islanders.

Julien Gauthier and Phil Di Giuseppe were the healthy scratches up front while defenseman Anthony Bitetto was also in street clothes.

Vitali Kravtsov got one shift worth 19 seconds in the third period and sat for the final 16:48 that included 4:41 of special teams play. Kravtsov finished with 8:35 of ice time.

Alexis Lafreniere’s goal was his third in the last six games and 10th on the season. Ryan Strome recorded his 300th career assist on the centering feed Lafreniere converted for the 2-1 goal at 9:49 of the third.

Lafreniere was on with Strome and Artemi Panarin for that shift — the only one of the game — after the Blueshirts had a killed a penalty on which the Sabres had extended zone time.

“We had a little juggling of the lines and it seemed like the right fit,” head coach David Quinn said. “So, you know, every now and then the coach makes a good decision.”

The Rangers have yet to use one of their four permitted AHL recalls and likely will not unless and until the team is mathematically eliminated from the playoff hunt.

“That’s something we talk about all the time,” Quinn said. “It’s game by game depending on our roster and who we feel good about here.

It’s a fluid situation but we talk about it every day.”

Morgan Barron, pounding on the door, collected two assists in Hartford’s 3-2 overtime victory over Bridgeport on Tuesday afternoon. The 22-year-old first-year pro out of Cornell has 21 points (10-11) in 21 AHL games, including 13 points (5-8) in 12 games since being shifted from the wing to center on March 25.

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