For three periods - and one overtime period – the only time Jimmy Vesey was noticeable during Saturday night’s 2-1 Rangers win over the Predators, was when a parade of boos rained down every time No. 26 took the ice. Oh yeah, the “Vesey sucks” chants were pretty loud as well.
But when the Preds and Rangers - still tied 1-1 after 65 minutes of hockey - needed a shootout to settle this contest, Vesey was front-and-center.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault boldly sent out the most-hated guy in Nashville as his leadoff shooter, and the crowd let Vesey have it some more. The 23-year-old forward responded by scoring on Predators goalie Juuse Saros, completing a narrative you just somehow knew was coming.
“It wasn’t at all about rubbing it in to Nashville,’’ Vigneault told reporters after the game. “When we came off after morning skate, our guys said to me ‘Jimmy took three shots in shootout fashion and he scored all three times.’ I had that in the back of mind, we went into the shootout, I put him out there, and it paid off for us.”
Added Vesey: “I practiced some breakaways this morning. I usually go to my backhand, but Ive been working on faking the backhand and going to my forehand and just trying to flip it over his pad and luckily it snuck in.”
After being shut down for the entire game – only totaling one shot on goal – Vesey left his mark on Bridgestone Arena, in front of the very fans who earlier this year were drooling at the thought of Vesey joining the Predators for a playoff run.
“It’s a big moment for him in his career,” Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “First time back, obviously we know the whole storyline, but I thought he handled it great and certainly comes through in a big situation there. I liked the challenge there that our coach does by putting him out first.”
Vesey stated earlier in the week that he expected Nashville to be “the worst of it” after being booed in Buffalo earlier this season. The Nashville fans did not disappoint, letting Vesey hear it on every one of his shifts.
“I just tried keeping it simple tonight and not let the external distractions bother me,” Vesey said. “First period was kind of just me trying to get myself into the game mentally and trying to block that stuff out. It definitely felt good to score in the shootout.”
This one will sting for a little bit for Predator fans. They will have to wait until next year for their chance to give Vesey a piece of their minds once more. If nothing else, although Vesey may never publicly acknowledge it, he felt the heat from Predator fans.
“There’s no doubt that as far as hostile environments for him - out of all the places - this was probably the most challenging,” Vigneault said.