For more than 50 minutes of game time, it seemed as if the Rangers had picked up where they left off. Not the team that went 18-4-1, but the team that had gone 12-12-2 in the next 26 games. However, Artemi Panarin came through and scored perhaps the biggest goal of the season to date.
Panarin’s 31st goal of the season tied the game in the third period and Alexis Lafreniere scored the game winner in overtime as the Rangers came away an exhilarating, come from behind 2-1 win over the high flying Colorado Avalanche at Madison Square Garden last night.
“Not our best first period, but second and third was better. Being down, down one in the third and ‘Bread’ [Panarin] scored a big goal, got us a little bit of energy,” Lafreniere said after a satisfying victory.
Jonathan Quick got the start (a decision already planned to give Igor Shesterkin an extra day after he played in the All Star game) and made 32 saves including two huge stops in overtime. He also had an assist on the winning goal as he beat Colorado for the 21st time in his Hall of Fame career.
Quick has been a pleasant surprise this season, posting an 11-4-2 record in 17 starts and has given the team a lift both on the ice and off. “The games that he’s come in and he’s given us have been outstanding,” Coach Peter Laviolette said. “You think about the start of the year, not having Shesty [Shesterkin] for a stretch. That can derail a lot of teams and yet, we were definitely able to stay on course with the way he played.”
Former Ranger Alexandar Georgiev made 27 stops and lost for the first time in regulation against his old team. Last season, the Rangers beat Georgiev 2-1 in a shootout at the Garden.
Thanks to Quick, the Rangers only trailed 1-0 entering the third period. They were sluggish in the first and better in the second, but the Rangers turned up their game in the third period and reminded themselves that they can be a good hockey team.
The Rangers spent much more time in the offensive zone and it finally paid off with the tying goal.
Panarin had the puck behind the Avalanche net and skated it out while being checked by former Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar. The Rangers winger nearly lost the puck but he fired a wrist shot from the right side that beat Georgiev top shelf that not only tied the game but provided a much needed lift for the team and the Garden. K’Andre Miller, who played one of his better games of late, and Braden Schneider assisted on Panarin’s team leading 31st goal of the season.
Both teams had chances to end the game in the final seconds of regulation.
With a little over a minute left, Nathan McKinnon, who already dazzled the Garden crowd with the way he scored the Avalanche goal in the first period, skated behind the Ranger net and put pass out in front to Mikko Rantanen in the slot, but Quick made the save to keep the game tied.
“You’re aware of where he is, you’re focused on the puck behind the net,” Quick said. He makes a pass out and you just try to kind of move into the area that you believe he’s shooting and try to react, if you can find sightlines on and try to react. Fortunately it hit me and we were able to get it to OT.”
Lafreniere missed a tip in attempt with two seconds left and the game went to the five minute extra session. Miller’s shot with half a minute left was juggled in the air by Georgiev but the Rangers couldn’t capitalize on the loose puck.
In overtime, Quick made two saves on McKinnon and then froze the puck after a save on Devon Toews. Laviolette put Barclay Goodrow on the ice for the defensive zone face off and after winning it, he came off the ice and replaced by Mika Zibanejad.
A loose puck was pursued by Colorado’s Ross Colton as it made its way into the Ranger zone for what could’ve been a breakaway but Quick made a decision to play the puck.
“I shouldn’t wander out that far, it felt like the right play when I started skating,” the 38-year old said. “I thought I faked him, he [Colton] didn’t bite and I realized I was in a little bit of trouble. Luckily I bobbled it a little bit and got it to the neutral zone and was able to take care of it from there.”
Colton nearly intercepted Quick’s pass and would’ve ended the game but it went to Zibanejad who did a give and go with Lafreniere. Zibanejad skated down the right side and dropped a pass between his legs to Lafreniere who moved in front and fired a wrister past Georgiev for his 13th goal of the season to end a thrilling and entertaining hockey game.
“Nice play by Mika, just dropped it to me, tried to get to the middle for a shot,” Lafreniere said. “Luckily, it went in.”
McKinnon put his skills on full display to get Colorado on the board late in the first period.
The All Star took a pass from Cale Makar and starting streaking up the ice at high speed as he beat two Rangers and then snapped a shot past Quick for his 32nd goal of the season and a 1-0 lead with 1:48 remaining in the first period. McKinnon extended his point scoring streak to 14 consecutive games (13 G, 16 A).
It was the only goal of an eventful first period where the Rangers successfully killed off three penalties, one of which was a bogus tripping call on Lafreniere because an Avalanche player’s stick caused the trip.
While the Rangers penalty kill was coming up big, Chris Kreider nearly scored twice on shorthanded attempts but was denied by Georgiev.
Both goaltenders made key saves in the second period. Georgiev stopped Blake Wheeler on a break in attempt, while Quick denied Logan O’Connor who was skating in front.
The Rangers have won two in a row, both without captain Jacob Trouba who missed both games while serving his two game suspension. A win in come from behind fashion over a top Stanley Cup contender who had been playing well (13-3-1 in their last 17 games) could provide a springboard to get the Rangers playing like they did early in the season.
“It’s one win but we get a little bit of a restart, even though we won the last game before the break in Ottawa,” Zibanejad said. “I think January, as a whole, wasn’t our best month this season. We talked about it, we wanted to get a good start coming off this break.”