Rangers turn the tables in a ‘must win game’ over Stars, Panarin erupts for five points, Hunt picks three apples in wild victory

Dryden Hunt called it a ‘must win game.’ The gritty forward played a key part in another comeback win for the Rangers. After falling behind by two early, they turned the tables completely on the Stars to pull out a wild 7-4 win to conclude a four-game road trip.

For his part, Hunt had three assists to help the Rangers snap a two-game losing streak. Two ugly losses that were the worst of the season. They needed a game like this. Maybe not getting down early before coming back. It showed character.

On a night coach Gerard Gallant opted for another strange 11 forward, 7 defensemen alignment, it worked out alright. This time, it was Ryan Reaves getting his first healthy scratch of the season. While he got a night off, Gallant decided to dress Libor Hajek for the second time on the road trip.

Initially, Ryan Lindgren was listed as the seventh defenseman. He’s been struggling lately. Perhaps it’s due to being banged up. As the game progressed, Lindgren regained his status on the top pair with Adam Fox, who looked more like himself.

By going with seven D and only 11 forwards, Gallant basically had three lines and worked in Julien Gauthier and Greg McKegg, who made a nice contribution in his return. In a very unpredictable game, both Gauthier and McKegg were responsible for a huge goal that swung the momentum.

It also was a big night for Artemi Panarin. The team’s leading scorer finally had the kind of impact game they needed from the star player. He erupted for a season high five points with a goal and four assists. It was the best he’s looked in a while. He scored and set up goals the way he can.

Facing a good team that doesn’t lose often on home ice, the Blueshirts got off on the wrong foot. It was just 49 seconds in that defensive defenseman Esa Lindell was able to sneak a backhand from a bad angle by Igor Shesterkin short side top. Not the start he wanted after being chased from the net in St. Louis.

Before the game was five minutes old, Tyler Seguin was able to redirect a Joel Kivaranta shot in to give the Stars a quick 2-0 lead. At that point, there had to be concern. Were the Stars about to blow the doors off the Blueshirts? Thankfully, it never happened.

On a strong Gauthier forechecking shift behind the Dallas net, he was able to outwork two Stars and throw a puck out to a pinching K’Andre Miller. Using a defenseman as a screen, the more confident Miller let go of a wrist shot that changed direction to beat Jake Oettinger at 9:45.

The hard work from Gauthier led to the big goal that changed the first period. It was his first point in 16 games. Originally, the goal was credited to Miller. That would’ve been a new career high six. But replays showed that McKegg was able to get his stick on the puck to pick up his second of the season. A gritty play by the veteran.

Jonny Brodzinski drew the only penalty of the period on Roope Hintz, who hooked him down. The second ranked power play made short work to even it up. Needing only seven seconds due to a face-off win, Panarin one touched the puck to Ryan Strome, who moved it in the slot for a Mika Zibanejad one-timer that went off the far goalpost and in. It was his 12th power play goal and 23rd overall.

Suddenly with momentum, the Rangers stayed on the attack at even strength. On a good shift where Panarin found room, he got the puck over for a Jacob Trouba shot that Fox tipped in front for the go-ahead tally with 5:46 left. His eighth was the first goal he scored since Jan. 19. It broke a 15 game drought.

On the very next shift, it was some more good work by the second line that allowed them to make it four consecutive goals. Hunt moved the puck for Miller up top. He then passed for Panarin, who moved into the right circle and surprised Oettinger with a wrist shot that beat him. That made it two goals in 36 seconds.

Following the crazy first period where the teams combined for six goals, the second wasn’t as high scoring. For the most part, both young goalies settled down to make key saves.

After the Rangers were unable to capitalize on a second man-advantage Alexis Lafreniere drew on Radek Faksa, Lindgren took another penalty for interference. As Dallas worked the puck around, Brodzinski took down Jamie Benn to give them an abbreviated five-on-three.

With only 22 seconds on it, the Stars caught a nice break to pull within one. Following a Hintz pass to John Klingberg, he centered down low for Jason Robertson, who had the puck go off his glove and in. Shesterkin immediately threw his hands up and protested the controversial play. He had a point.

Even on the Stars’ feed, color analyst Daryl Reaugh thought it wouldn’t count. A well respected broadcaster, Reaugh tells it like it is. When both he and Joe Micheletti think it shouldn’t count, there’s a good reason for it. A player isn’t allowed to direct the puck in with their glove. The problem was it was hard to tell if that’s what Robertson did. He’s an outstanding player.

I don’t think the play in question can be challenged. Gallant certainly was animated while discussing it with refs Jake Brenk and Steve Kozari. They probably couldn’t do anything. So, it stood as the 30th goal for Robertson. A great player many teams passed on in the 2017 NHL Draft. He went number 39 to the Stars, who also took Miro Heiskanen (mononucleosis) third and Oettinger 26th in the first round. Don’t bother looking at that draft.

The Robertson goal that made it 4-3 definitely gave the Stars life. They really carried the play for almost the rest of the second period. But whenever it appeared they’d find the equalizer with the Blueshirts hanging on, Shesterkin was there to make the critical stops. In a period his team was outplayed and outshot 13-8, the Vezina favorite made 12 big saves.

With it looking like Dallas could tie it on an extended offensive shift late in the stanza, an important goal was scored by an unlikely source. On a strong cycle from Hunt and Panarin, Patrik Nemeth took the puck behind the net and then came around for a backhand stuff in try that Oettinger stopped. However, he jammed away at a loose puck as the whistle blew with 1:40 left.

Initially, nobody seemed to realize that the puck crossed the line. However, a horn sounded from above which usually signals a goal. Following the review in which replays indicated that the puck was indeed in prior to the whistle blowing, Nemeth had his second goal since becoming a Dad for the second time.

It was a nice reward for a guy who’s certainly been criticized enough. Nemeth made a smart play around the net and realized Oettinger didn’t completely have the puck covered along his post. That allowed him to poke it in to give the Rangers a huge goal that put them ahead 5-3 with a period remaining.

In the third, the Rangers did a solid job defensively. They didn’t give up many shots early on. In fact, the Stars barely mustered anything the first several minutes. However, one good offensive play led to Joe Pavelski tipping in a Hintz shot for his 23rd at 8:09.

On the scoring play, Klingberg got the puck over to Hintz. He then took a shot with Pavelski in front. With Lindgren a bit off him, that allowed Pavelski to do what he does best. The 37-year old veteran American is having a great season. Having just re-signed for a year at a cap hit of $5.5 million with an extra $500,000 in performance bonuses, Pavelski is over a point-per-game. Remarkable.

Again with momentum from a goal that cut the deficit to one, the Stars looked on the verge of drawing even. They had the play in the Ranger end. But a good defensive play from Filip Chytil cleared the zone. It also allowed Barclay Goodrow to come out with the puck.

Skating into the Stars’ zone, he let go of a wrist shot from the left circle that eluded Oettinger for the momentum shifting goal that gave the Rangers enough breathing room. Goodrow added to his career high with number 13 by beating Oettinger five-hole. That made it 6-4 with 5:53 left.

Dallas coach Rick Bowness eventually lifted Oettinger for an extra attacker. However, it was the effective combination of Panarin and Hunt that combined to move the puck ahead for Strome. Needing a goal desperately for his psyche, even he couldn’t blow the empty netter that came with 1:37 to go.

Prior to Strome getting his 14th, an over excited Shesterkin went for it again. As soon as he got the puck, he saw the Dallas empty net. Perhaps a bit over anxious, he shot too quickly. It nearly resulted in disaster. The Stars came close to making it a one-goal game. Fortunately, Shesterkin’s mistake didn’t cost him.

At the end of the day, this was an important win. Maybe not a must win as Hunt said. But considering how poorly they played in lopsided defeats at Minnesota and St. Louis, it was nice to see them get off the mat. The victory allowed them to earn a split on the road trip. It also prevented three losses in a row in regulation.

They now can return home in a better mood. The Rangers have the next two days off before the Ducks visit MSG on Tuesday. Believe it or not, the Islanders then are on the schedule this Thursday.

The victory tied the Blueshirts with the Penguins for second in the Metro. Both have 79 points with 23 games remaining. By virtue of three more wins in regulation, the Rangers are second. Pittsburgh takes on first place Carolina this afternoon. The Canes are up to 87 points and show no signs of slowing down.

Congrats to former Ranger Derek Stepan on his 500th career point. A nice assist on a Steven Lorentz goal in the Canes’ 3-1 home win over the Flyers. Proof that good guys don’t always finish last. I’ll always be a fan of Step. Kudos to him on the milestone.

Battle Of Hudson Three Stars

3rd 🌟 K’Andre Miller NYR 2 assists, 3 SOG, 2 takeaways, +2 in 19:59

2nd 🌟 Dryden Hunt, NYR career high 3 assists, +2 in 17:10

1st 🌟 Artemi Panarin NYR goal (16th) plus 4 🍎 for season best 5 points, +2 in 20:18

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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