A night later, let’s get to why I couldn’t believe the overtime winner Artemi Panarin scored to beat the Penguins in a memorable deciding Game Seven.
With 10 seconds remaining on the power play, Panarin moved in and fired a seeing eye shot through a maze of Pens that just snuck past Tristan Jarry inside the near goalpost at 4:46 of sudden death.
Let’s take a closer look at how hard a shot that was to make. Like the Game Seven hero said following the emotional first round victory, the Pens didn’t give the Rangers’ top unit much room.
On the TNT replay called by Kenny Albert, Panarin took an Adam Fox pass back and moved into position. However, he had John Marino in the path and Kris Letang near Jarry.
When he released the shot, it honestly looked like it wouldn’t reach the net. Somehow, the puck got by Marino and past both Letang and Jarry’s glove into the top part of the net for the series clincher.
Let’s take a look at the MSG replay as wonderfully called by Rangers play-by-play announcer Sam Rosen. If you slow it down, you’ll notice how little room Panarin had to get the shot through.
On Panarin’s winning shot, he manages to get it just by Marino’s skate. Then, with Letang battling Kreider in front, the Penguins’ top defenseman accidentally screened Jarry. That key battle allowed Panarin to score his dramatic OT winner, sending the Rangers to the second round for the first time since they ousted Montreal in 2017.
It’s why I was so late to react to the goal. I didn’t think it had a prayer of going in. The Pens had done a good job blanketing Panarin throughout the series. He finished with three goals and four assists in seven games.
One last thing on the Bread Man. He definitely appears to still be playing through an injury. Whatever sidelined him for the last three games of the regular season, it still seems to be an issue.
Hopefully, a couple of days off before the Rangers begin their second round series against Metro Division champ Carolina will help him get healthier. They’re going to need Panarin at his best against a very tough opponent.
As far as what makes the ’21-22 New York Rangers special, coach Gerard Gallant nailed it during Sunday night’s postgame. Turk knows that this team never quits. Even when things looked bleak during plenty of moments in the three elimination games, they are never out of a game.
“That’s our team,” Gallant told New York Post Rangers columnist Larry Brooks. “We compete, we battle and we find ways to win games that maybe we shouldn’t have.”
That’s what makes them the Never Say Die Rangers. They’re a resilient team used to falling behind in games. They’ve been a comeback team all year. That is probably why they never panicked after getting down in Games Five through Seven.
They made NHL playoff history by becoming the first ever team to complete a 3-1 comeback when trailing at points in all three games. It had never been done before.
A much different scenario than 2014 when a more battle tested team never trailed in coming back to defeat the Pens. A year later, they stunned the Capitals by getting a Chris Kreider game-tying goal and a Ryan McDonagh overtime winner to start their 3-1 comeback in an unbelievable Game Five.
I was in the building for that game. It really felt like they were done. I told my brother Justin they needed a miracle. Derek Stepan made the back pass for the clutch Kreider shot that beat Braden Holtby to force OT. Stepan would then make the drop for McDonagh’s winner that kept them alive.
After taking Game Six by hanging on for dear life against Alex Ovechkin and company, they were deadlocked with the Caps in overtime. On a face-off win by Stepan, he was able to get loose to steer home a rebound of a Dan Girardi shot to win that series in a dramatic conclusion to the seventh game.
I stayed home for that one by myself. Justin, Mike and Dad went. They were there for that unbelievable finish to a memorable second round series. Probably the best one of those Blueshirts teams featuring Henrik Lundqvist.
That was a special time to be a fan of this team. When I think back to all the incredible series that needed seven games to decide that dated back to 2012, it was a joy to be at The Garden for most of those. The atmosphere was incredible. A different time.
Before I close the book on this post, I wanted to highlight a Brooks’ statement in his column from late last night. It pertains to analytics.
Many use the fancy statistics to measure a game such as Sunday’s. By all accounts, the Rangers got outplayed and out-chanced by the Penguins. I think we all know that. They outshot them 42-30 and out-attempted the Blueshirts 69-67. That was closer due to the Pens missing the net less.
However, it didn’t matter. The bottom line is Igor Shesterkin made up the difference. He returned to form by stopping 39 of 42 shots. That included a few highlight reel saves time give his team a chance.
“There were way too many chances against, way too many high-danger chances. The analytics people must be aghast at this victory in which the Blueshirts had an xGF of 35.08 percent, just as that subset has been, game after game, month after month, victory after victory. The analytics community still has not devised a formula that measures heart.”
The bolded final part from Brooks’ column nails it. You can win in this league if you have those intangibles that don’t show up in the box score or stat sheet. The Blueshirts aren’t perfect by any stretch. But they do play with a lot of grit and determination.
They’re also very resilient. It’s those key characteristics that explain why they were able to advance to the second round.
That’ll do it. Tomorrow, I’ll have a preview of Rangers vs
Rangers South Hurricanes. Plus picks for the other three series.
I’m most excited about the Battle Of Alberta. It’s been 31 years since the Oilers and Flames battled in the postseason. This still remains the highlight of that series despite Edmonton prevailing in seven.
Theo Fleury’s goal celebration remains the best I’ve seen. The Oilers came back to win Game Seven 5-4 on Esa Tikkanen’s overtime winner in Calgary.
Here’s hoping for another classic series featuring Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk.
The Battle Of Florida will also be fun to watch. I’m most curious to see what the two-time defending champion Lightning have left after going seven to beat the cursed Maple Leafs four straight Game 7 losses in first round).
What about the questionable status of injured star Brayden Point? It didn’t look good when he suffered what looked to be a serious leg injury crashing into the boards during the first period the other night.
If they’re without Mr. Clutch, whose latest OT heroics in Game Six kept them alive, can the Bolts match the firepower of the top seeded Panthers? We’ll see.
The other match-up features the high scoring Avalanche against the 2019 Cup champion Blues. That could be interesting. It’ll depend on the goalies.
I’ll have more tomorrow.