It was three years ago today, on March 5th, 2020, that the Rangers got a special performance from Mika Zibanejad. Facing the Capitals, it was an exciting back and forth game played at the World’s Most Famous Arena.
On a memorable night at MSG, Zibanejad put on a Broadway show. Facing Alexander Ovechkin and the Caps, the Rangers were led by Zibanejad, who tied a franchise record by scoring five goals in a game. That included the electrifying overtime winner at 33 seconds when Tony DeAngelo and Artemi Panarin combined to lead a flying Zibanejad for a memorable breakaway goal on Ilya Samsonov where he went deke and backhand finish to win the game 6-5.
It’s the best regular season game we ever attended. Seeing Zibanejad put on a magical show to out-duel Ovechkin was special. In the third period, he recorded his fourth career hat trick when Pavel Buchnevich set him up from behind the net to put the Rangers up 4-3 just 12 seconds in.
However, the Caps kept coming back. Led by the greatest goalscorer in NHL history, Ovechkin tied the game with his 46th nearly halfway through the period. But it was a late power play that allowed Zibanejad to get number four. On a rush, then rookie Kaapo Kakko had a slap shot go wide and take a favorable carom off the back boards right to Zibanejad for the easy put away that made it 5-4 with 1:42 left.
But before they could celebrate a victory, Ovechkin had other ideas. In the final frantic minute, he was able to get to an Ilya Kovalchuk rebound and steer in his 47th with 43 seconds left in regulation. That tied the score once again at five.
That’s the kind of game it was. So, it went to overtime. In the three-on-three, it didn’t take long to end. On a simple back pass from DeAngelo over to Panarin, the Bread Man found Zibanejad just behind the Caps for the breakaway.
Even with some back pressure, he was able to go to his bread and butter move. A good fake, deke, and backhand into an open side after Samsonov bit for the exhilarating overtime winner at 33 seconds.
What a finish. At the time, Zibanejad was on fire. He became only the third player in Rangers’ history to record a five-goal game, joining Don Murdoch (Oct. 12, 1976) and Mark Pavelich (Feb. 23, 1983).
Unfortunately, as Zibanejad hit 41 goals on Mar. 11, 2020, in an overtime loss at Colorado, the pandemic forced the postponement of the remainder of the schedule. The Rangers had 12 games left. Had they been able to play them, maybe Zibanejad hits 50. Artemi Panarin would’ve gone over 100 points in his first season as a Blueshirt. It wasn’t to be.
Had they beaten out the Islanders, who at the time were fading, maybe David Quinn’s trajectory is altered. Instead, a disappointing abbreviated 56-game schedule in 2021 saw the Rangers miss the playoffs and get pushed around. That led to the dismissal of Quinn, John Davidson, and Jeff Gorton.
The rest is history. Since then, Chris Drury took over and made key decisions on personnel and hired Gerard Gallant, who guided the Rangers back to the postseason in 2021-22. They made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final before falling to the championship pedigree Lightning in six games.
With 32 goals this season, Zibanejad is on track for his second 40-goal year. His 67 points rank second behind Panarin, who leads the Rangers with 69. Now earning a well-deserved $8.5 million per year, Zibanejad continues to prove he’s one of the best top centers. He put up 24 points during last year’s playoff run.
Even with the key addition of Patrick Kane after Drury acquired Vladimir Tarasenko, it will fall on Zibanejad to lead the team in the upcoming postseason. He’s the best forward they have. A reliable player Gallant can lean on in all situations, Mika Magic remains one of the greatest acquisitions in franchise history. Who would’ve thought Gorton getting him from Ottawa for the proven Derick Brassard would become so lopsided.
Zibanejad has recorded seven of his eight hat tricks as a Ranger. None more memorable as the virtuoso five-goal game to best the Ovechkin Caps on a night where things were still normal. Nothing has ever been the same since.
For one night at least, Mika Zibanejad gave us something to remember.
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