Game #60 Rangers sweep season series from Hurricanes to pull within five points of wildcard, Panarin hits 400 points, Quinn says extend the Moms Trip


The happy Moms pose after a successful 2-0 road trip. David Quinn joked that they should keep them the rest of the season. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

Dominance. That’s one way to describe the mastery the Rangers have over the Hurricanes. It doesn’t seem to matter who plays in net. They own the Canes. That point was proven emphatically in a huge 5-2 win at Raleigh to sweep the season series. They outscored Carolina 17-9 in the four games.

By winning a remarkable seventh consecutive road game to tie a franchise record, the Rangers drew closer to the wildcard. Even though the Islanders took care of business against the dreadful Red Wings to move into the first wildcard, the suddenly hot Blueshirts have pulled within five points of the second wildcard. The slumping Blue Jackets occupy it with 73 and only 20 games left. They’re winless in seven and lost leading finisher Oliver Bjorkstrand for likely the rest of the season.

Right now, you have to say the playoffs are a possibility. With teams ahead of them continuing to struggle including the Canes, who badly miss Dougie Hamilton, why not? It’s the Rangers who are playing the best hockey right now. They improved to 9-3-0 since returning from the break. They’ve banked 18 of a possible 24 points. Next up are the Sharks tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden. That one is another big game. They all are now.

Here’s the thing. By winning as much as they have, they’ve put more pressure on management, who have a very difficult decision to make by Monday. What will they do? Let’s leave all the discussion for other people. Because that’s all it is. Talk. Ultimately, it will come down to what Jeff Gorton, John Davidson and David Quinn think is best for this year and the foreseeable future. It won’t be an easy decision.

On a night Henrik Lundqvist was a healthy scratch for the first time in his illustrious career, Igor Shesterkin again starred in goal. The poised rookie netminder made 27 saves. That included a three save sequence on a dangerous Canes power play in the first period. He robbed fellow Russian Andrei Svechnikov of a sure goal by getting across to make a sparkling glove save on a good one-timer. The first Carolina power play was real good at moving the puck and setting up shots. Shesterkin made at least five quality saves to keep it scoreless.

This was a important game for the Canes too. A win would’ve kept them in the wildcard and moved them ahead of idle Columbus with 74 points. However, they had trouble solving the puzzle that is Shesterkin. When you have Anson Carter on the MSG postgame already sarcastically calling him, “Vezina,” that tells you everything you need to know about the goalie. All he’s done is win eight of his first nine starts by playing so well that even superb scorers like Sebastian Aho don’t know what to do. There’s little doubt he’s the real deal.

The penalty kill continues to get the job done. They successfully killed off a pair of Jacob Trouba interference penalties. Even though they would finally allow a power play goal to Aho in the third period for the first PPG in nine games, it was earned by the Carolina top goalscorer. Getting the kind of superb goaltending they are helps any penalty kill. Along with a more disciplined and aggressive unit under assistant Lindy Ruff, they’ve improved.

On the second and final night of the Moms Trip, they again gave them plenty to cheer for. Mika Zibanejad made a great defensive play to strip the puck at his own blueline and break in on Petr Mrazek. He went to his patented backhand off a nice deke top shelf for an unassisted goal with 3:19 remaining in the first. His 27th goal gives him goals in three straight and seven in the last eight games. He’s been on a tear. He followed up a four point game at Chicago with three more tonight. That’s seven points in two wins. In fact, Zibanejad has five multi-point games over the last nine. That’s 16 points (7-9-16) over a dominant span.

A real good road period had the Rangers up a goal headed to the locker room. It could’ve been more early in the second. Jordan Staal got his stick up on Zibanejad as he fired a shot leading to a tacky slashing minor. To be honest, I thought the first Trouba penalty in the first was soft as well. The officiating wasn’t great. They would later miss a Justin Williams hi-stick on Ryan Lindgren, who again bled like the Warrior he is. He would stay on the ice and kill a Julien Gauthier penalty for delay of game.

Rather than increase their lead, the Rangers wasted the power play opportunity. With it close to expiring, rookie Kaapo Kakko made a mistake. Instead of taking an open shot at Mrazek from the circle, he opted for a low percentage pass across to a well defended Pavel Buchnevich at the doorstep. It resulted in a turnover. After Jaccob Slavin got the puck to Staal, who came out of the box, he dished for Brock McGinn, who cut in on a backing up Trouba and fired a good wrist shot high glove side on Shesterkin. That goal tied the game at 3:25. The puck might’ve deflected off Trouba’s stick.

With the game tied up, Jesper Fast took a lazy tripping minor in the offensive zone. He protested due to feeling his stick was being held by Joel Edmundson. It probably was. But they got Fast on the reaction taking down Martin Necas. Fortunately without one of their top penalty killing forwards, the Blueshirts were able to get the minor killed. Shesterkin didn’t have to stand on his head.

Following that, the Rangers had the edge at even strength. They were doing a good job on the forecheck against the Canes. Eventually, some of that hard work paid off. On a good keep from Trouba on a pinch, the puck came to Artemi Panarin. A magician with the puck, he passed it over for Fast, who had his return feed bank in off a Cane past Mrazek for his first goal since Jan. 13 against the Islanders. It snapped a 14 game drought. Though he doesn’t have the skill of Panarin or playmaking of Ryan Strome, Fast remains a good fit on that second line due to his willingness to get dirty. It was nice to see him rewarded with his ninth goal at 9:48.

The assist was the 50th of the season for Panarin and 80th point. It also was his 400th career NHL point. By accomplishing that in his first five seasons, the Bread Man joins exclusive company that features Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Connor McDavid. Those five are the only active players on that list. It says a lot about Panarin and how consistent he’s been. What a remarkable player. He also would later score his 31st goal in the third to tie his career high. That’s 81 points in 59 games. Wow.

With the Rangers up 2-1, the game became physical. You had your big hits and board battles as well as entertaining scrums. Exactly what you’d expect between two division rivals fighting for a playoff spot. In particular, Svechnikov was finishing checks. He is pretty feisty to go with his world class skill. Eventually, a big hit led to him and Trouba exchanging pleasantries. They each went off for coincidental roughing minors to create a four-on-four.

In a period largely controlled by the Rangers, Mrazek was the busier goalie. He had to make some tough saves. His team was outplayed by a significant margin. The Rangers held a 19-8 shots edge. They played the way they had to. With urgency. Continuing to do a good job of skating into open space and cycling the puck effectively, they caught a break when Brady Skjei took a Strome feed and circled around the Canes net and had his centering pass for Strome take a lucky bounce off a defenseman and by a shocked Mrazek. The huge goal was his eighth coming with less than four minutes left to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead. Zibanejad started the play to get a secondary helper.

By now, the Hurricanes were clearly frustrated. The normally cool Justin Williams took a needless slashing minor in the offensive zone with 39 seconds left in the period. Even though they didn’t score before the conclusion of the second, they would make Williams pay for his undisciplined penalty that was reminiscent to him losing his head against pest Brad Marchand last Spring.

On what was a very good play started by Kakko to Filip Chytil behind the Carolina net, he passed for Zibanejad in front. Tightly covered, the first center wisely made a no look backhand pass to an open space. The puck came right to Panarin, who made no mistake burying his team-leading 31st past Mrazek at 1:10. It was a terrific play by all three players. Unfortunately, Chytil would exit the game with a lower body injury. Quinn didn’t know how long he’ll be out. Chytil is day-to-day.

Following the Panarin tally that made it 4-1, newcomer Gauthier got nabbed for getting his stick on a loose puck and firing it out for a delay of game minor penalty. During the same play, Lindgren took an errant high stick from Williams bloodying him. He looked around with a disturbed look on his face to no avail. They didn’t see it. Being the tough minded plays he already is, he came back out to kill the penalty. That’s why he’s the Warrior.

This time, the Canes found a way to connect on the power play. It took a second effort from Aho to put home a hard Svechnikov shot that Shesterkin stopped on a nice setup from Slavin. He didn’t have the puck covered, allowing Aho to jam it in for his 35th goal to cut it to 4-2 with 14:48 remaining.

Rather than carry momentum from the goal, Carolina took some bad penalties. They really shot themselves in the foot. They looked dangerous and obviously knew they were capable of coming back. However, a dumb tripping penalty on Warren Foegle in the offensive zone slowed them down. He slew footed Adam Fox. It was a dirty play that was totally unnecessary. Even though they didn’t score on it, Fox paid back the Canes by cleanly decking McGinn with a good shoulder to chest takeout as he was trying to clear the puck. There was nothing malicious here. It was just a good hit. That’s why there was no response from the Canes.

Shesterkin would make a couple of key stops to prevent any Carolina thoughts of a comeback. He’s very composed. Following another bad penalty by Aho for tripping Brett Howden, Tony DeAngelo got into it with Nino Niederreiter. With the teams back at even strength, Niederreiter left his feet to hit DeAngelo against the boards for charging. Never one to shy away from a confrontation, he gave Niederreiter a chop for slashing. Both were taken off the ice. DeAngelo was yapping away at Niederreiter in the penalty box.

Eventually, Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour pulled Mrazek for an extra attacker. The Rangers made some good defensive plays in their end. First, Lindgren skated around the net away from two attackers for a key clear with help from Fox. Then, Trouba cleared the zone allowing a hustling Strome to get to the loose puck and score his 16th into an open net with 1:48 remaining. That sealed it.

It was amusing watching DeAngelo trash talk and point up the scoreboard. He’s a classic. Brendan Lemieux also mocked the Canes home celebration as the buzzer sounded. They’re a bunch of characters who are close together on and off the ice. This group has great chemistry. They genuinely like each other and their improvement has been a direct result.

They continue to play hard for Quinn, who’s remarked to reporters recently how proud he is of this group. It’s obvious that they have something going on. I don’t know what the organization will decide. But they have played themselves back into the playoff picture.

The Rangers have earned it. It’s a lot for the positive fans to be proud of. Maybe our friend Jon is right. Maybe they can pull this off. We’ll have a better idea on Tuesday.

Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Ryan Strome, Rangers (16th goal plus 🍎 to boost his career best total to 53 points in 60 GP)

2nd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, Rangers (career tying 31st goal plus 🍎 for points 80 and 81 in 59 games, 401 career points in first 5 seasons)

1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (27th goal plus 2 🍎 giving him 7 points in the last 2 wins)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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