NEW YORK – Artemi Panarin fought through the stress and aggravation that plagued him throughout the Eastern Conference First Round to deliver his signature moment with the New York Rangers.
The magic that made Panarin an early sensation in his NHL career – he won the Calder Trophy voted as the NHL rookie of the year with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016 – vanished through six games and three periods into Game 7. Yet Rangers coach Gerard Gallant had a premonition that Panarin would be the one to score in overtime.
The forward did with a power-play goal at 4:46 to give the Rangers a 4-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and a date with the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.
New York is the 31st team in NHL history to come back from down 3-1 and win a postseason series and the first team in the Stanley Cup Playoff history with three consecutive comeback wins in elimination games within the same series.
[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs Penguins series coverage]
So does that make Panarin’s goal the biggest of his NHL career?
“It’s hard to say,” Panarin said. “I do not really score that many goals, so I’d say all of them are pretty, pretty big.”
Goals for Panarin were hardly in abundance against the Penguins. Going into the first round, he averaged 0.93 points per playoff game (28 points; 10 goals, 18 assists in 30 games). Though he was at 1.00 per game (six points; two goals, four assists) in the series, something was missing.
The Penguins neutralized his ability to excel in wide-open space and forced him into taking penalties, his second of Game 7 coming at 8:08 of the third period for high-sticking defenseman Kris Letang. The Rangers were bailed out by three saves from Igor Shesterkintwo on Sidney Crosby in his return after missing half of Game 5 and all of Game 6 with an upper-body injury.
“It was a really stressful game,” Panarin said. “There wasn’t that much room on the ice. They were really pressing. One team was throwing it out of the zone, the other team was throwing it in the zone. I couldn’t really get an overall picture of what was going on.
“Overall, honestly, they’ve been letting me shoot since the first game. Kind of my bad. I haven’t really been making those shots, but maybe I should listen to everyone’s advice and actually get out there and take shots.”
Panarin took his best shot when the Rangers needed him the most, a blast from the top of the right circle past the glove of Tristan Jarrythe Penguins goalie starting Game 7 after not playing since April 14 because of a broken ankle.
Just like that, the Garden was sent into a frenzy and Panarin was thrust back into the spotlight.
“It’s just who he is,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “A little quirky, but I kind of get the same feeling listening to what he’s going to say. You do not know what ‘Bread’ is going to say or what he’s going to do and what he’s capable of. He does it all “especially for this group, for being such a highly skilled, talented player. He’s just another guy, another player on the team, and that’s a pretty cool thing. Happy to have him.”
Thanks to Panarin, the Rangers are in the second round for the first time since a six-game loss to the Ottawa Senators in 2017. If you ask Mika Zibanejadwho scored the tying goal with 5:45 remaining in the third to set up Panarin’s playoff moment, no further explanation is needed.
“I do not have to sit here and go through his stats,” Zibanejad said. “I think everyone knows the kind of player he is, but just the way he is, the competitor he is. Always wants to win and I think that’s… guys see that… that’s what brings us the success we’ve had so far. “