Mika Magic: On a special night, Mika Zibanejad became just the third Ranger to score five goals in a game. His overtime winner on a breakaway gave the Blueshirts a huge 6-5 win over the Alex Ovechkin Caps at a wild MSG. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images
In all the years attending games, I can’t recall one quite like the one we got last night at MSG. A night that began celebrating Pride for acceptance of others became a one man show at The Garden.
Fittingly, it was Mika Zibanejad Night. The red hot top center made history by becoming only the third Ranger to score five goals in a game. In doing so to win a remarkable game in overtime on his signature move backhand top shelf for an emotional 6-5 win over the Caps, Zibanejad joined Don Murdoch (Oct. 12, 1976) and Mark Pavelich (Feb. 23, 1983) to record five in a game.
It was astonishing. Not only because of how wild and crazy the back and forth game was with the Caps refusing to go away. The significance of his virtuoso performance in a game the Rangers desperately needed made it that much more special. If you didn’t think he was a superstar, now do you believe? Five goal games are rare. For him to do it under these circumstances with the team chasing the Islanders for the playoffs is unbelievable.
Zibanejad became the first player since Patrik Laine to record a five goal game. Over a decade ago, Marian Gaborik did it to the Rangers while playing for the Wild. Yes. He scored his five on Henrik Lundqvist, who was frozen like a pizza on the fifth goal. I’ll never forget it.
Plenty of great players have done it. Wayne Gretzky did it four times. So did Mario Lemieux including a memorable five goal game at the Devils and another memorable one versus the Rangers after returning from Hodgins Disease. Sergei Fedorov, Mats Sundin and Peter Bondra also did it. So did Joe Nieuwendyk. Jari Kurri recorded one and Bryan Trottier did it twice.
Now, you can add Zibanejad’s name to the historic list. He scored goals 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38 to pull within two of 40. The last time a Ranger reached 40 goals is when Jaromir Jagr was on his way to setting a new single season franchise mark with 54 goals in ’05-06. Since Jan. 31, Zibanejad has 20 goals. Over that same span, if you go back one game when he tallied two assists on Jan. 21, he’s 20-14-34 in 20 games. He’s up to 71 points (38-33-71) in 54 games. That’s with missing 13 games. Where would he be had he not missed that time?
What he’s doing is phenomenal. Right now, Zibanejad is one of the hottest scorers in the league. He is proving at age 26 that he’s going to be well worth his next contract. The good part is he’s signed through 2022 at a bargain of $5.35 million AAV. When next year rolls around at this time, the Rangers should be into discussions for an extension for their potential next captain. It’s either Zibanejad or Chris Kreider. At this point, I’m sold on Zibanejad, who says all the right things at his locker win or lose. An easygoing player that’s fun to root for, he gets it. It’s nice to see him fulfilling his potential.
In terms of what transpired at the building by 33rd and 8th Avenue, it didn’t start well. In a battle of Russian goaltenders, Alex Georgiev was called on early to make a couple of big saves. With Pavel Buchnevich off for holding in the offensive zone, the second-year netminder was sharp in denying a point blank opportunity late in the penalty kill. A bit later, he made a gigantic stop on Richard Panik to deny him on a breakaway. He came out and challenged before shutting it down to cheers.
For as good as those early saves were, the first goal he allowed was bad. On a simple Washington forecheck, former Blueshirt Carl Hagelin came out and used Marc Staal as a screen to sneak a tricky wrist short short side for a 1-0 lead at 7:05. It was a smart play by a heady player. Georgiev didn’t cover the short side and got beat. Nick Jensen and Ilya Kovalchuk got assists.
Trailing by one, the Rangers got a reprieve when Kaapo Kakko drew a tripping minor on Nic Dowd. Following the top unit methodically moving the puck around, Tony DeAngelo finally got the puck over for an Artemi Panarin low shot that Zibanejad redirected in at 9:01 for the tying power play goal. It was a great tip in by him to start off his big night.
The team would get another chance on the power play a few minutes later when Dowd again took a bad penalty for a hold on Staal. This time, they wouldn’t capitalize. Despite good puck movement from the in sync top unit with Pavel Buchnevich replacing the injured Chris Kreider, the game remained tied headed to the second.
Prior to the period, we saw the legendary Kenny Albert twice. He warmly greeted us and joked about the one and only Fuzzy, who’s still with us in spirit. He definitely loved Fuzzy, who’s best known for being on the Oh Baby video of the 1993-94 New York Rangers. Kenny is a class act. I’m so glad he represents our team and this city. Ditto for Sam Rosen. Both their calls were phenomenal on Zibanejad’s fifth goal.
In what amounted to a crazy second, the teams combined for four goals and 29 shots. It was wide open with little defense played. The Rangers would retake the lead at 5:29 when Adam Fox set up the second of the game for Zibanejad. On a strong shift from the first line, Phil Di Giuseppe made a good play in the neutral zone to get the puck to Buchnevich. After he gained the Washington zone, they went to work to draw a delayed penalty. Moving the struggling Caps defense side to side, Fox whistled a superb cross ice feed to Zibanejad from a unique angle where he absolutely rocketed a one-timer by Samsonov for his 35th. It was a remarkable shot that foreshadowed his big night.
After both clubs failed to convert on the power play, the Caps new line featuring Ilya Kovalchuk, Panik and Lars Eller connected. They badly victimized the Rangers third line. You could feel it coming. An Eller pass across for a Kovalchuk one-timer beat Georgiev high to the short side to tie the game at two with 7:59 remaining.
It was a rocket from the Russian who once was top dog prior to Ovechkin. Kovalchuk has 10 goals this season while playing for three teams (Kings, Canadiens, Capitals). The once certain Hall of Famer has 443 career NHL goals and 433 assists for 876 points over 924 games. Had he not gone home to play in the KHL, it would be different for the 36-year old veteran. It was his choice to waste whatever was left of his prime by ditching the Devils.
With the game knotted at two, the period became even crazier. The Blueshirts once again had a dominant offensive shift to reclaim the lead for a second time. On sustained pressure with Staal involved, he got the puck to Panarin. Drawing defenders, he made a perfect pass across for an easy finish from a pinching DeAngelo, who got his 14th at 14:42. He’s very good at reading and reacting. When on the ice with Panarin and Zibanejad, he’s lethal. It would be a harbinger of things to come.
But before anyone could get comfortable in their seats, the Caps got it right back 16 seconds later. A Panik pass for a Michal Kempny one-timer went high short side again on Georgiev. The goal was later changed to Garnet Hathaway, who got a piece of it for his ninth to tie the score just 16 seconds later.
It was again the third line that got victimized. In particular, Kaapo Kakko had a rough night defensively. He was on for three goals against and eventually found himself on the fourth line in the third with Julien Gauthier replacing him in the top nine. It had to be done. Kakko didn’t let it affect his game.
By this point of the game that already had six total goals, both goalies were shaky. Georgiev clearly was fighting it while counterpart Samsonov was having similar issues. A harmless Fox floater late in the period he fumbled out of his glove before covering it up for a face-off. Georgiev made sure to squeeze a long shot and secure it for a similar draw. It was the battle of the Russian Enigmas.
The issue at that point was the Caps were doing more forechecking and getting shots through with traffic in front. Their superior depth gave them an edge despite playing for the second time in two nights. If the Rangers wanted to win this one, they had to take a similar approach against Samsonov.
Before I could even look up after getting into my seat in the last row of our section, Zibanejad had scored 12 seconds into the third to complete the hat trick. Stunned, I wondered how he could’ve scored that quickly. A giveaway from Evgeny Kuznetsov resulted in a turnover right to Buchnevich, who set up Zibanejad for his third goal of the night. Hats flew everywhere onto the ice along with the flashy rainbow colored Pride towels they handed out and even wigs.
This was insane. It reminded me of when Ivan and me attended Dwight Gooden’s no hitter in 1996. They gave away socks. When the final out was recorded, we all tossed the socks onto the field in celebration. Of course, Joe Tolleson got on the PA system to ask fans not to throw the rainbow towels down. It was comical. They rarely have giveaways probably for this reason. As for me, I’ll gladly giveaway my Pride Night towel to someone who wants it. Yes. I took a picture. It’ll be included in this recap. I also got some funny video of the fan of the game. A cool Garden employee celebrating Zibanejad Night.
At 4-3 up, I knew what to expect. They made matching calls on Brett Howden and Jonas Siegenthaler. It was much ado about nothing. A waste if you ask me. At this juncture, it felt like the Rangers backed off. I told my Dad the Caps were tying it. He disagreed. Sometimes, I can just tell. The same way I called the mind numbing Oliver Bjorkstrand winner in a crushing loss late in regulation, sure enough Ovechkin finally did something.
On some good pressure during the four-on-four, John Carlson got the puck to Kovalchuk, who made a nice pass across for Ovechkin in his office. It was easy pickings as he ripped one of those patented wrist shots by Georgiev high glove for his 46th of the season at 9:22. The goal came less than a minute after my prediction. You cannot sit back against a team with their talent. The Rangers got burned.
With the game now 4-4, the Rangers went back to work right away nearly untying the score again. Buchnevich created a chance. They forced Samsonov to make some difficult saves. The Caps completely lost discipline. They took three straight penalties to hand the Blueshirts three consecutive power plays.
First, Eller roughed up Brendan Smith during a scrum that drew the ice of the crowd. It sure looked like the refs missed a boarding penalty. That’s what caused all the commotion. Eller wound up with the only penalty. The Rangers had two great chances to go ahead. Zibanejad setup Buchnevich for a one-timer that Samsonov kicked out with a toe save. His best of the game. On the same man-advantage, Panarin went to Zibanejad for a wide open shot that just missed. Had it hit the net, it was in. Never a bad thing to go to the hot hand.
There was also another great opportunity for Zibanejad off a centering feed, but his rocket shot went over the top. He sure was feeling it. He’s been in a zone since January. The amount of goals he’s scoring and the points he’s racking up make him a threat everytime he’s out for a shift. He’s dangerous. If he didn’t miss those 13 games, he could be in the Hart conversation with teammate Panarin. At this point, I’d be shocked if Leon Draisaitl doesn’t win. He’s got 110 points. Edmonton looks like they’re going back to the playoffs.
Right after Eller left the box, Carlson took a dangerous penalty by cross-checking Brendan Lemieux right in the face. We all know Lemieux is a royal pain in the ass. He’s been frustrating me with his penchant for dumb penalties. However, he also draws a lot due to his agitating nature. The Carlson cheap shot looked deliberate. He was lucky to only receive two minutes. I feel the league should’ve reviewed it. I doubt they did.
On another power play with the game still hanging in the balance, the Rangers couldn’t get the go-ahead goal. Instead, a more aggressive Washington penalty kill attacked and forced turnovers for easy clears and even a shaky play from Georgiev, whose play with the puck has become scary. It’s Henrik Lundqvist bad. A total adventure. That’s clearly a confidence issue. He’s had several misplays recently. They have to work with him on it and doing a better job tracking pucks on the short side.
Astonishingly with Carlson two seconds away from returning, they nabbed Eller for a high stick on Jacob Trouba, who sold it by going down easily. I thought it was a weak call. Especially given the power plays they already had. The Caps bench didn’t like it.
Once it was a five-on-four, the Rangers weren’t getting much done. However, a quick counter which really was a two on two saw Kakko do the right thing by taking the shot from the left circle. Initially, Samsonov made the save but it rebounded strangely with the puck taking a Ranger bounce off the back boards right to Zibanejad, who easily slammed it home for goal number four to make it 5-4 with still 1:42 left in regulation.
Despite our section and the fans going nuts, I didn’t know what would happen next. I think I kinda knew the Caps would tie it. It was that kind of game. There was too much time left. Sure enough, they pulled Samsonov for the extra attacker and gained the blueline with ease. That is an issue. Then, they began forechecking and firing away. Again, there was a opportunity to clear the zone. Only the Rangers couldn’t. Another sore spot.
Eventually, Kovalchuk passed up top for a Carlson shot that Georgiev couldn’t control, allowing a bad rebound right to Ovechkin, who buried it home for his NHL tying 47th with just over 43 ticks left in regulation. He’s amazing. He did nothing for two periods, but came to life and got the Caps even twice. 705 goals and counting. I think he’ll chase down Gretzky.
The game would go to overtime. It was fitting. This was as exciting a regular season game as I can remember. I’ve never seen a game where two teams went back and forth like this. There have been other great games like Gretzky’s last and Messier’s final one in which he scored. There was the classic goalie duel between Lundqvist and Brodeur where they each got shutouts with both making a ton of great saves. But never anything quite like last night. This was special.
A special game deserved a special ending. When David Quinn sent Zibanejad, Panarin and DeAngelo over the boards for the opening shift of the three-on-three overtime, I stood up behind our row and said get the puck to Mika. I felt if he got a clean look, he’d win it. On a smart DeAngelo recovery in the Caps zone and pass back to Panarin in the neutral zone, I saw the play developing before it happened.
Zibanejad was open for a perfect lead pass from Panarin that caught Tom Wilson. He powered through as Wilson tailed him. Once he broke in and went to his signature forehand deke, I knew it was Game Over. He is automatic on that backhand and hit nothing but twine top shelf to win an exhilarating game 33 seconds into extras for his fifth goal of the night. It touched off a celebration on the ice and in the stands where I jumped up along with other pumped up fans. This doesn’t happen in a regular season game. It felt like the playoffs.
It was a rare moment that was special. Everyone who went knew what they witnessed was terrific. A truly magnificent and memorable Garden moment. Mika Zibanejad became the third Ranger to record five goals in a game to join Murdoch and Pavelich. And he did it in clutch fashion by winning the all important game in OT to pull the team within two points of the Islanders, who somehow lost 4-3 at Ottawa.
This was as clutch a performance as you can ask for in their situation. It would’ve been crushing to lose after Ovechkin tied it back up for the fifth time. The same way it would’ve had the Islanders beat our team last week in overtime after rallying from two down in the final six minutes at the Coliseum. Who won that one? Zibanejad on a rocket from Panarin. Same common denominator. I don’t think you can ask for more than what we got last night.
I was too out of it to finish this game review last night. But it deserved this kind of attention. It was a great game to be at. I feel lucky. I don’t attend as many games as my family. So, to be there for that was awesome. Celebrating as if it was Game Six versus Montreal in 2014. Or Game Five against these Caps in 2015 when staring at elimination. Or the dramatic Brad Richards tying goal and Staal power play winner in sudden death in 2012. Or Marty St. Louis scoring that emotional first goal on Mother’s Day versus the Pens. Or Derek Stepan beating the Caps in Game Seven. A game my family attended. I went nuts at home.
There are 15 games left. It’ll be tough. The Devils are next up tomorrow. They’ve been playing well of late. It won’t be easy. The Rangers had better be ready to play. They need it with what’s coming up. There’s a road trip that includes visits to Colorado, Dallas and Arizona. All hard games. But as Zibanejad noted after his big night, they’re all going to be tough now.
I don’t know when Igor Shesterkin will be ready to come back and start. But if he’s the goalie and there’s no reason to think he’s not for now, Georgiev must raise his level. The last two games haven’t been good enough. He knows it. They will need better play from him to get this done. It’s right there for them. Especially with the Isles in free fall and the Hurricanes on the ropes following another loss to the sizzling Flyers.
This is the most exciting Rangers team since the Jagr years. They’re the underdog who’s not supposed to be in this position. Two points out with the first tiebreaker. It’ll be fun no matter what happens. Enjoy the ride.
Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟
3rd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, Rangers (3 assists including the great lead for the Zibanejad 5th goal to win it, it’s not often he’s overshadowed, praised his teammate calling him elite afterwards)
2nd 🌟 Ilya Kovalchuk, Caps (easily could go to Ovechkin, but Kovalchuk was the best Cap recording a goal and 2 🍎 while playing like he used to)
1st 🌟 Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (a record 5 goals including the dramatic OT winner at 33 seconds to join Don Murdoch and Mark Pavelich as the only NYR to have 5 goal games, utterly brilliant on a night he could’ve had even more)