Game #62 Panarin and Zibanejad save the Rangers in an emotional 4-3 overtime win over gritty Islanders, Georgiev stands on head, McKegg and Howden score


No words. Just a great photograph. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images

Sometimes, you gotta be lucky. Whether it’s in life or whatever venture, luck being on your side is good. The Rangers were lucky to win last night’s big game over the gritty Islanders before a wild environment at Nassau Coliseum.

They didn’t really deserve the two points, but it doesn’t matter how. They got it done in a emotional rollercoaster of a 4-3 overtime win to close within four points of second wildcard Columbus. With 20 games left, their playoff hopes hang in the balance. By finding a way to win this game, it allowed the Blueshirts to set a new franchise record with an eighth straight road win.

Up to 72 points with both the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes losing, they have a chance to continue their strong road play with a visit to Montreal on Thursday with the sizzling third place Flyers on deck Friday. No matter what happens, Henrik Lundqvist should get one of those games. Preferably the Flyers where he’s had more success than at the House of Horrors up north. I would give Alex Georgiev that start versus the Canadiens (4-3 overtime losers to Vancouver).

Speaking of which, the Rangers don’t get any points without the brilliance of Georgiev. He was up to the challenge by stopping 42 of 45 Islander shots. The Isles dominated large portions of the game. They out-attempted the Rangers 84-48. Total shots on goal favored the Long Island hosts 45-28. They were the better team at even strength winding up with 39 shots to 24 if you include four-on-four in regulation.

The difference was the Rangers were opportunistic due to their superior skill. They scored three times on the 24 shots while the Isles only got two by Georgiev on their 39. If you get technical, the Islanders needed an extra man to come back from a two-goal deficit in the last five and a half minutes.

Playing for the first time since trading away defenseman Brady Skjei to the Hurricanes, the Rangers were on their heels from the outset. Also minus Pavel Buchnevich (day-to-day) and obviously Georgiev starting in Igor Shesterkin’s place, they moved Filip Chytil up in place of Buchnevich to play with overtime hero Mika Zibanejad and a less than 100 percent Chris Kreider.

Coach David Quinn decided to have Brett Howden go back to center a third line with Phil Di Giuseppe and Kaapo Kakko while reinserting Greg McKegg to play on the fourth line with Brendan Lemieux and Julien Gauthier. It’s ironic that it was the play of the supporting cast that played a huge role in the win. Both McKegg and Howden scored on superb deflections that helped them build a 3-1 lead in Uniondale.

Without those contributions, they would’ve been sunk. That includes Skjei replacement Brendan Smith, who overcame some shaky play in his end to pick up a big primary assist on Howden’s tip in that put them up two with 10:26 remaining in regulation. In 26 shifts, he logged 18:25 back on defense while hanging in there despite a heavy Isles forecheck.

Skating could be an issue with Trouba, who delivered the hit of the game by cleanly leveling Michael Dal Colle in the third period. That led to newest Islander Jean-Gabriel Pageau instigating a fight with Trouba. The Ranger killer who of course got the first Isles goal on a crazy bounce, was assessed 17 penalty minutes including a misconduct for hockey. Overkill.

Even with Pageau off the ice, no Dal Colle (concussion protocol) and down one defenseman in Andy Greene, the Islanders showed a lot of determination to rally back and force overtime. Even after having an apparent goal waived off due to a questionable ruling for interference on captain Anders Lee which coach Barry Trotz challenged to no avail, they controlled play.

Whatever the reason, the Rangers sat back too much and leaned on Georgiev, who was stopping everything. The Isles could’ve set up a tent in front of his net. It was bad. They gave the Isles way too much space and backed in. It was too easy. A undisciplined tripping minor on Ryan Strome evened it back up 14 seconds into a Ranger power play. He has a tendency to take those unnecessary penalties in the offensive zone. Recently, he hadn’t.

What resulted was a brutal four-on-four where the Rangers let the Islanders dictate the play. They got the only two shots. With the crowd back in it, off a face-off win, Eberle came out of the box for a 12-second power play and took a Mat Barzal feed and faked out Howden and Marc Staal by going to a beautiful backhand top shelf on an already committed Georgiev for his 14th at 14:23. Ironically, Lee helped set it up. Justification for such a bad call that disallowed the previous Islander goal.

Even my Dad, who went and sat mostly with Ranger fans in Section 214, thought it was a bad call. Those are always 50/50. In this era of replay with video review from Toronto, they didn’t overturn it. If you’re an Isles fan, you’re steamed. You probably think they should’ve won in regulation. They should have. I don’t know how much it would’ve changed anything. They wound up on the power play and Eberle scored anyway.

There just wasn’t enough urgency shown from the Rangers. It was like once they got ahead 3-1, they thought the game was over. It’s never over. Especially against the Islanders, who never think they’re out of a game under Trotz. They’ve pulled off five comeback wins after trailing. I’ve seen them get games tied with the goalie pulled to force OT. It’s usually at home where they feed off the energy of the crowd.

That’s exactly what happened. After the Eberle goal, the Islanders pressed and pressed for the equalizer. The Rangers weren’t able to forecheck, opting for clearing their zone and a couple of dump ins. Token resistance.

The disappointing aspect is they played well in the first half of the third. Nursing a 2-1 lead on a nice McKegg tally from Lemieux and Adam Fox, they responded to the strange Pageau goal late in the second by doing a better job offensively and defensively. Both the third and fourth line generated pressure.

On a effective cycle, Ryan Lindgren passed across for a Smith one-timer that Howden was able to redirect in for his eighth at 9:34 to make it 3-1. I might refer to him as stone hands. But that was a very skilled play to snap a 10 game goal drought. When you get contributions from your support lines the way McKegg, Howden, Lemieux, Gauthier, Di Giuseppe and Kakko (superb defensively) played, you better win.

They nearly wasted that effort. It’s rare that the bottom six are that noticeable. This team has relied heavily on MVP candidate Artemi Panarin (goal, assist), Zibanejad (OT winner for 29th) with help from Strome, Kreider, Buchnevich and Jesper Fast. They have gotten it from Fox, Lindgren and Tony DeAngelo. Skjei too offensively before he was sacrificed. He didn’t fare well in his Carolina debut. A 4-1 loss to the Stars.

Everyone knows the goalies with especially Shesterkin sparking this turnaround. They’re now up to 11-3-0 since the break. He was 9-1-0 before the car accident that resulted in a non-displaced rib fracture that’ll keep him out two to four weeks. Now, it’s up to both Georgiev and forgotten man Lundqvist to hold them in games. If they’re going to get pelted with 40 shots every night, it’s not a recipe for success. Neither are Shesterkin.

The Rangers know that. They’ll need to be better in the next game at the Habs with the very strong Flyers in their home building. It can’t be retreat mode like we got for way too many shifts on Tuesday night. They’ve won four in a row and eight of nine by playing better hockey. Let’s just say they got away with one. Similar to the lackluster game they found a way in against San Jose.

It was all Islanders early on. They got the game’s first six shots on a sharp Georgiev, who wouldn’t allow his team to fall behind. He made a lot of quality stops throughout. In a period largely dominated by the Isles, the turning point actually came on the only penalty the first 40 minutes. After Lemieux went off for hooking, it was a strong Rangers penalty kill that didn’t give up much. Georgiev was only called on twice as they kept the Isles power play to the outside.

Carrying some momentum from the big kill, the Rangers finally began to find their game. With Panarin on for a shift, some great passing from DeAngelo and Lindgren led to the Bread Man burying his career high 32nd past Semyon Varlamov with 2:58 left in the first. The Rangers contingent cheered the nice play that Panarin finished by going five-hole on a still moving Varlamov. It was a brilliant cross ice feed from Lindgren, who recorded his first two assist game.

Similar to the first, it was mostly Islanders early on in the second. At one point, they led in shots 9-2. However, they still were unable to crack Georgiev. He was up to 24 saves when the Rangers fourth line extended the lead to two.

On a very aggressive forecheck by McKegg, who showed no effects of rust after sitting out the previous three, Fox made a good play in deep to pass for an open Lemieux at the point. He was covering for him. Lemieux fired a good one-timer that McKegg was able to get a stick on to steer it home at 7:48 for his fourth. It was a gritty play by a hardworking player.

With the Blueshirts starting to ramp it up, they had the better of the play for a majority of the rest of the period. In fact, they got 11 of the next 15 shots. But just when it seemed the Isles had nothing going on, Ryan Pulock took a Josh Bailey pass and fired a high riser over the net that took a funny carom. The puck came right to Pageau, who was parked at the side while Georgiev and Staal looked behind. The Rangers killer put in the gift for his first Islander goal to make it 2-1 with 2:56 left. Of course, it had to be Pageau. He owns them.

To their credit, the Rangers responded well. They finished off the second fine to take a one goal lead to the locker room. Continuing their momentum, they were in good position when after killing off a soft Chytil hooking minor, Trouba nearly killed Dal Colle. He never had a chance. The puck bounced on him leaving the forward with his head down. The big shoulder hit was into the upper chest and jaw of Dal Colle, who was shaken up. Following Pageau exchanging fists with Trouba, he was able to skate off to the room. Hopefully, he’ll be okay.

I’ve seen some suggest it should be a suspension. Are these people kidding? Is there head contact? Yes. Was it intent to injure? I don’t believe so. They’ll definitely review it. There are a lot of factors that’ll go into the decision. I’ll leave it at that.

I’m going to use what Sam Rosen said to Joe Micheletti following the scrap that resulted in a instigator and misconduct to Pageau, who his team could’ve used. He’s a great face-off guy and very effective on the forecheck. Rosen pointed out that that’s the part of the game he doesn’t understand. In the old days, a clean hit didn’t cause such a commotion. Now, there must be retribution. I get it. But it was a good hit. End of discussion.

The turning point came with Pageau off and the Rangers on a man-advantage. Some power play. Strome foolishly put his stick into Scott Mayfield at the Islander blueline and he went down. Following the worst four-on-four you’ve ever seen from this team, they lost a defensive draw cleanly. Before you knew it, Lee fed Barzal, who fed Eberle for a power play goal. All in a span of six seconds.

If there continues to be one area that plagues this team, it’s their inability to win key defensive draws. It killed them last night. The last two Islanders goals were due to winning face-offs.

With Chytil unable to get a puck in deep by going one on three (why?), it allowed the Isles to continue to come through the neutral zone and attack. The biggest save Georgiev made was when he flat out robbed Lee point blank. He was alone in the slot one on one with Georgiev and sent a high labeled wrist shot ticketed for the top of the net, only to see Georgiev get a piece of it with his glove and push it out of trouble. That’s the kind of shots he was facing. It looked like a power play.

After Varlamov came off for an extra attacker, the Islanders cycled the puck around until Georgiev made another big save to get a whistle. Out of a timeout by the home team which should’ve helped the exhausted Blueshirts, Nelson beat Zibanejad to push the puck back to the point. At that point, both Jon and I knew they were in trouble. You could feel it coming.

Like parrots, we both thought the Isles were tying it. The Rangers were so backed in, they literally were screening their own goalie on some of these chances. You know how the Lundqvist crowd cries that only he is faced with this chaos. Uh. Bullshit Baloney. Did they not see Shesterkin set an NHL record with four 40-plus save games in those wins? Or Georgiev do similar earlier this season? This is an epidemic that threatens to ruin a possible feel good story.

On the next minute plus, the Islanders moved the puck and retrieved it at least five times. Whether it was from attempts, rebounds or deflections, the Rangers had five chances to clear the zone. They failed to do so. I knew they were screwed when Barzal had the puck. Eventually, he passed it up top to Devon Toews, who fired a bullet shot pass for a great Nelson deflection through a sliding Georgiev with 17.8 seconds left in regulation. It was his 23rd.

That clutch goal forced overtime. I told Jon it wouldn’t last long. I figured the Isles would win at that point. How could they not? The crowd was going crazy. To hear my father tell it, the atmosphere was great. Unlike corporate MSG which feels like crickets. Blame Dolan. He sucks.

Rangers and Islanders is still as good as it gets. For other fans close-by who think they’re the number one rivalry, not even close. Not when both New York rivals are good. This was playoff style hockey. Big points were up for grabs. It was intense. Hard fought. It had everything.

On the opening shift of the artificial three-on-three, Anthony Beauvillier tried to beat Panarin entering the Ranger zone. He didn’t bite. Instead, the emerging Hart front-runner stripped Beauvillier and took the puck the other way. With three Islanders chasing him down, he knew he was out of time. With Beauvillier hustling hard to backcheck, the Bread Man had one last trick up his sleeve.

I’m not sure how he did it. But as he was being checked, he had the presence of mind to push the puck by the three Islanders to an open space. The puck just sat there for an on-rushing Zibanejad to fire past a helpless Varlamov for the unreal overtime winner at 28 seconds. Panarin leaped into Zibanejad as the Rangers poured off the bench to celebrate the big win.

That type of extra effort is what makes Panarin special. He doesn’t dog it. He is a complete player in every sense of the word. That’s why he should be your Hart Trophy winner. If this team makes the postseason, he deserves it over the Oilers twins. I don’t think I have to name them.

Neither plays the five-on-five game that the Wonder Bread Man does. He’s your MVP. The biased Canadian media owes the Rangers for the screw job on Jaromir Jagr 14 years ago. They can take their votes for the Oilers twins and stick it. Panarin is more valuable to his team. Where would they be without him? In the lottery. And Kreider would be gone along with others. I guarantee you that.

It was an incredible game to watch. And it was great. Not just because the Rangers won. But due to the intensity and scrappy nature of the Islanders. It would’ve sucked to lose that. They needed the win. Now, it’s onto Montreal and then Philadelphia.

Battle of Hudson Three 🌟

3rd 🌟 Greg McKegg, Rangers (4th goal on great deflection, really deserves it after missing last 3 games and how well he played)

2nd 🌟 Mat Barzal, Islanders (2 huge assists that got his team a big point, took over the last six minutes of the third, 18-36-54 leads Isles, no goals in last 11 but 10 🍎)

1st 🌟 Artemi Panarin, Rangers (career high 32nd goal plus remarkable 🍎 to set up Zibanejad in OT, 32-53-85 in 61 GP)

Key Stats:

Face-offs Isles 30 (Pageau 10 of 14, Nelson 7 of 13) Rangers 18 (Strome 5-and-8, Zibanejad 7-and-11)

Blocked shots NYR 23 (Trouba/Panarin 3 apiece) NYI 13 (Pulock 4, Toews 3)

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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