The Good Copp gets a natural hat trick to highlight Rangers’ win over Islanders, Panarin adds four assists to hit career best 96 points, Strome gets number 20, Kreider ties Cook on all-time Rangers goal list

It was a good night in Elmont. A pretty memorable one for Andrew Copp. His natural hat trick in a great first period highlighted a Rangers’ 6-3 win over the Islanders at UBS Arena in Long Island.

Since coming over from Winnipeg, the good Copp has been a great fit with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Tonight demonstrated why. The cohesive trio were dangerous every time they had the puck against the Islanders. They had no answer for that line.

While Copp recorded his second career hat trick (first as a Ranger), Panarin added four assists to give him 74 for the season. The 74 apples are the most ever by a Ranger forward in a season. He has four games left to chase down Brian Leetch’s record of 80 set in ’91-92.

The four helpers helped Panarin set a new career high in points with 96 for ’21-22. In the Covid shortened ’19-20 season, the Bread Man had 95 before the pause. Now, he has a shot at hitting the century mark for the first time in his brilliant career.

Also an instrumental part of the scoring line is Strome. Although it hasn’t been his best year, he was able to score a career high 20th goal and add an assist to give him 52 points in 70 games. During the postgame seated next to Adam Fox, who had three helpers, Strome was pleased to finally get 20 goals in a season. He’s got three over the last two games.

With all three clicking, it creates a dilemma for opponents this postseason. They can either shadow the Panarin line and try to match up, or go up against the Mika Zibanejad line that features top finisher Chris Kreider and Frank Vatrano. This is a good thing for the Blueshirts.

Speaking of which, Kreider ended a three-game drought by scoring number 51 on the power play. That would be his 26th power play goal. Also a single season franchise record. In notching that goal, he tied Bill Cook for 10th on the all-time goal scoring list as a New York Ranger.

That goal was number 228. In tying a Rangers legend and Hall Of Famer in Cook who of course wasn’t acknowledged by MSG Network, Kreider can now set his sights on ninth next season. He is 12 goals away from Leetch on the all-time list. Steve Vickers is eighth with 246 and Mark Messier is seventh with 250. Something to keep an eye on down the road.

If you love and appreciate team history like I do along with Dad, Justin and friend Sean McCaffrey of, then there’s a lot to look forward to. Franchise history is something I’m going to devote more time to. Maybe not a book like McCaffrey or the revered Stan Fischler. But it’s important for our fans to know the full history of the Rangers.

Also, with Fox adding three assists, he joined Panarin, Zibanejad and Kreider to become the fourth Ranger to record 70 points in the same season. Something that’s only been done four times in franchise history. The last one coming during ’93-94 when Sergei Zubov, Messier, Leetch and Adam Graves achieved it during the Stanley Cup year. The other two are ’91-92 and ’71-72.

Every one of those seasons were special. The Rangers played for the Cup in ’72. Then won the President’s Trophy in ’92. Obviously, they won the Cup in ’94. What will the ’21-22 Rangers do? That is a good question. It’s always good to be part of such history. If they play their cards right, it could be special.

Beating the Islanders at their barn was important. Especially when you consider how tough the last two games were. Both losses at MSG including that uncompetitive one in which Gerard Gallant blasted their effort. He got his team’s attention. They’ve played better since.

The latest victory kept the Rangers in a first place tie with the Hurricanes. They were 4-2 winners over the Jets to keep pace. Both teams have four games remaining. Carolina still holds the first tiebreaker with one more RW (regulation wins). They meet next Tuesday at The Garden.

What we do know is at the very least, they will have home ice in the first round. Pittsburgh cannot catch them. Neither can Washington. The Rangers will play for home ice in the first two rounds. If they get it, that’s two potential Game 7’s in their building.

Regardless of the standings, any date with the Islanders can’t be taken lightly. From the very start, they were ready for their bitter rival. In what proved to be a great start, it was all Blueshirts in the first period.

Gallant opted for backup Alex Georgiev for this one. Why not. He’s been winning lately and has had success versus the Isles. He was opposed by Semyon Varlamov. The goalie whose mastery over our side was mind numbing. Something had to give.

Entering play, the Rangers had that shutout streak of three games in a row going. Varlamov was aiming to keep putting up zeroes up versus his favorite opponent.

In the early going, Kreider got a great scoring chance. On a good pass from Vatrano, he was denied by Varlamov point blank. Following the stop, Adam Pelech clearly high-sticked Kreider. No call. How in the heck do they miss it? At least it didn’t matter.

Following that miss by the blind mice, Jacob Trouba made a nice outlet to Panarin on an Islander turnover. Panarin easily gained the zone and made a brilliant backhand feed for an easy Copp finish for his first of the period at 3:43.

Seemingly every time that line was on for a shift, you felt like something positive would happen. The puck was sticking to Panarin like velcro. It was a magnet. The magic continued.

Just over four minutes later, Fox moved the puck for Panarin. Of course, he skated around until he was able to make an absolute gem of a pass for a wide open Copp at the side of the net. Bang! Two-zip before eight minutes had been played.

Meanwhile, Georgiev had no trouble with the Islanders. He quietly made eight saves in the first period. It never felt like he was seriously threatened. That’s a credit to how well the team played in front of him.

Copp wasn’t done. Late in the period, Panarin started the play that would wind up turning into a hat trick. He got the puck up for Strome, who then made a sensational pass by Noah Dobson right on the tape for another Copp finish. It was a tap in to give him the natural hat trick with 1:47 left.

Speechless. That’s how I felt watching it. They honestly could’ve had more. That’s how dominant they were. The Islanders couldn’t stop them.

By the end of the first, the game felt over. In actuality, it wasn’t. These are the Islanders. You figured if they had any pride, they’d at least come out with something better than that disengaged performance.

For 10 periods, our goalies didn’t allow a single goal. It had to end eventually. That quickly, Brock Nelson ended it at 200:43. He was able to score 37 seconds into the second period to finally put a puck by a Ranger goalie. There was nothing Georgiev could’ve done. That made it 3-1.

He did make a key save moments later. Believe it or not, it came on Ross Johnston. The Isles’ checking line came in transition. Matt Martin made a good cross-ice feed for a Johnston one-timer that Georgiev got across and shut down to keep the Rangers up two.

After that big stop, the period was fairly even. I would say the Islanders had a slight edge. It wasn’t by much. They played more inspired. But Georgiev was strong making nine of 10 stops to keep them at bay.

Late in the period, Kyle Palmieri shoved Ryan Lindgren down into the boards to earn two minutes in the sin bin for interference. The power play hasn’t been as effective lately. They’re not getting many looks. However, they made Palmieri pay for his foolishness.

On a very simple play, Zibanejad got the puck up top for Fox. He shot for a rebound and got the desired result when the puck went off Varlamov right to Kreider for his 51st at 17:15. The rebound goal is eerily reminiscent to a goal Graves scored at Edmonton when he got two to set the record passing Vic Hadfield.

It’s nice to see Kreider get 51 the way he gets many. From right in front of the net. The hard work has paid off. He’s now the third highest Rangers’ goal scorer for a single season. One more and he ties Graves. Three more and he can match Jaromir Jagr.

With less than a minute to go in the second, Strome got his 20th from Panarin and Fox. It came thanks to some more artistic passing with Panarin leading Strome in where he beat Varlamov to make it 5-1. That was basically the game.

The third was garbage time. The only thing I wanted to see was no Ranger get caught in a vulnerable position. That didn’t happen.

After Nelson got his second of the game when he snuck a wrist shot from the slot by Georgiev for a power play goal set up by Mat Barzal and Noah Dobson, the Islanders never got any closer.

Instead, Ryan Reaves got a nice Easter gift from Alexis Lafreniere by scoring his fourth to restore a four goal lead with 8:07 remaining. On a three-on-one created by both Lafreniere and Barclay Goodrow, the puck perfectly. Then, Lafreniere patiently wanted for Varlamov to over commit, sliding the puck across for a Reaves finish.

He was all smiles. Why not. He’s been a good team guy and veteran leader in the room. He and Lafreniere have a good relationship. It was a nice reward for Reaves.

But on the next shift, the Rangers got caught napping. Zdeno Chara and Dobson combined to set up Josh Bailey for an easy goal that cut it to 6-3 with 6:38 left. That was it.

As time wound down, the Ranger portion of the 17,255 stood and saluted their team. It was a much better way to close out the season series. Ironically, the road team won all four meetings. It’s not surprising. Home ice means very little when these teams meet.

By making 26 saves on 29 shots in a good performance despite the statistics, Georgiev won his seventh straight decision. If it’s the last start he makes as a Blueshirt, thanks for the memories. That’ll depend on how the remaining four games go.

Here’s the rest of the schedule:

Saturday 4/23 at Bruins 3 PM

Tuesday 4/26 vs Hurricanes 7 PM

Wednesday 4/27 vs Canadiens 7:30 PM

Friday 4/29 vs Capitals 7 PM

If you’re wondering about the Canes, they visit the Devils Saturday at 12:30 PM. Then are at the Islanders Sunday at 1 PM in a back-to-back. Then it’s the Rangers Tuesday in a first place battle. The final game is at home versus the Devils next Friday at 7 PM.

The first tiebreaker remains regulation wins. ROW (regulation overtime wins) is second. We’ll see how things shake out.

For now, let’s continue to enjoy these Blueshirts. Embrace what’s ahead.

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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