Time was running out on a season of unexpected success for the Rangers. They were losing by a goal and the anxiety was rising at Madison Square Garden. To most people outside the Ranger universe, it would have seemed as if their terrific run was over.
But all season, including in the previous two games of their first-round playoff series, the Rangers had found a way to claw back and win, putting a stamp of authenticity on the team’s marketing slogan: “No quit in New York.”
There they were, trailing by a goal again, this time with less than six minutes to play in regulation in a deciding Game 7, when Mika Zibanejad rifled a wrist shot to tie the score. Then 4 minutes and 46 seconds into overtime, Artemi Panarin punctuated another comeback win, rifling home a wrist shot on the power play to clinch a 4-3 win and send more than 18,000 fans at the Garden into a deafening delirium.
THE RANGERS WIN GAME 7 IN OVERTIME 🚨 pic.twitter.com/pf8Ov500LY
— NHLonTNT (@NHL_On_TNT) May 16, 2022
“It’s crazy,” Zibanejad said. “I don’t think I’ve heard this building louder than on Artie’s OT goal. I could not hear what I was thinking. People have been talking about Games 7s here and the crowd. It was unrealistic.”
That surreal moment would have seemed almost implausible at the start of the campaign, but in a season in which the Rangers exceeded expectations and tantalized fans with their potential, they have made the unrealistic real.
After facing a three-games-to-one deficit in the series, Sunday marked their third straight comeback win. And it comes after they came from behind 27 times in the regular season, second most in the N.H.L.
That resilience will be useful in the next round when the Rangers take on the Carolina Hurricanes, who beat the Boston Bruins in seven games.
“When we get down I don’t think anybody gets frustrated or switches the game, really,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said, adding, “Just the belief in the room, the positivity, the energy. It’s a fun group to be a part of, a fun group to play with.”
Even with the Mets and the Yankees playing as well as they are, the Rangers are the hottest team in New York right now, which few saw coming.
Coming into the season, the Rangers hoped to find the right mixture of young, promising skill players and savvy, talented veterans like Zibanejad, Panarin and Chris Kreider in front of a terrific goalie in Igor Shesterkin. It all came together even better than expected under Gerard Gallant, the team’s first-year head coach, and the Rangers won 52 games and earned 110 points in the regular season.
The only unknown was playoff experience and the ability to win on the biggest stage. They certainly have that now to go with a generous dose of confidence.
Gallant had faith in Panarin, saying after the game that he had a feeling the Russian forward, despite not standing out earlier in the game, would come through. And he did, with only nine seconds remaining on the power play. Panarin took the puck from Adam Fox at the top of the right face-off circle, skated a few paces toward goal and then fired off his right foot, beating Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry on the short side through a screen, and unleashing a wild celebration on the ice and in the stands.
“Honestly, they’ve been letting me shoot since the first game,” Panarin said through an interpreter. “My bad, I haven’t really been making those shots. But maybe I should listen to everyone’s advice now and actually get out there and take shots.”
The tying goal came with 5:45 remaining in the third period after a play that angered Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan. Pittsburgh’s Marcus Pettersson lost his helmet behind the Penguins’ goal after getting tangled up with Rangers forward Alexis Lafrenière, and by rule Pettersson had to either find his helmet and put it back on or leave the ice for safety reasons. Pettersson headed toward the bench.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, took Petterson’s place, but he skated to the net, in front of Jarry, and was not in a position to challenge Zibanejad’s shot. And if Pettersson had been on the ice, he might have helped the Penguins clear the puck. Sullivan, not surprisingly, is not a fan of the rule.
“I think it stinks,” he said. “He has to come off. His helmet got pulled off intentionally, but that’s the rule.”
For the Penguins, who were in the playoffs for the 16th straight year, the loss was especially difficult to bear because it could be the last season of their longtime core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang playing together. The latter two can be free agents and sign with other teams.
“It’s not up to me, but obviously I’ve had a great experience playing with these guys over the years with what they bring,” Crosby said. “I love our group.”
The Rangers celebrated a second-period goal.Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times
Crosby, who concludes his 17th N.H.L. season, all with Pittsburgh, played Sunday for the first time after he was hit in the face by Trouba’s left arm in Game 5. He played well in Game 7, recording an assist, and inspired his teammates simply by returning. He was distraught over the loss, he said, because he felt this team had a chance to go further than people expected.
He also lauded the Rangers for being opportunistic and taking advantage of the chances they had, including when Pettersson had to leave the ice. It almost sounded as if he felt the Rangers had more luck than the Penguins did.
“You need some bounces to win, too,” Crosby said. “Give them some credit, they worked hard. But they got some bounces.”
For much of the year, the Rangers have made those bounces count — even when they were behind in games, even when the outcome looked bleak. It is a trait they hope to carry into the next series, which will start in North Carolina.
“We didn’t want the season to end,” Zibanejad said. “I think this has been our team all year. No matter how the game goes, whatever happens, we stick together, we work and we know what we have in that locker room.”
Or, as Trouba noted, referring to a season-long slogan that the Rangers brought to life: “That whole, ‘No Quit in New York’ thing,” he said, “is pretty true with this group.”
Penguins center Sidney Crosby shadowing Rangers winger Chris Kreider in the first period.Credit…Brad Penner/USA Today Sports, via Reuters