This is the time and this is the place where these bands of Rangers can write their own history and establish themselves as the rightful heirs of the Henrik Lundqvist era.
It’s Game 7 night, with the Rangers and Penguins returning to it once again on Sunday under the lights of Broadway.
This is the game that Artemi Panarin has been waiting for throughout his career. It’s the opportunity that’s there to be seized when a special moment meets a special player.
The Blueshirts need a big night from Panarin just like they needed big nights from Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider to keep this streak alive in Game 6 in Pittsburgh on Friday. Four goals later split between the pair and Rangers had extended that streak for the second time in three days.
Panarin’s game has been unrecognizable lately. A player you can’t take your eyes off has turned into a player you barely notice. There is no electricity in the number 10 game. There is no jump in his step. He can’t pass, he has trouble handling the puck, he hangs on twice on a shot that betrayed him.
The beautiful hockey went through the looking glass.
This is hockey that is not fun.
It’s impossible to believe that’s all Rangers will get from Panarin through this tournament. It’s also impossible to believe the Blueshirts will flourish if they don’t get more from the winger. That could apply to this one as the club look to stay alive for the third time in five days.
Beyond the obvious, Games 5 and 6 were great for Rangers’ collective psyche even though they were won against a depleted opponent. Overcoming 2-0 deficits in each validated the Blueshirts’ self-confidence. It hasn’t been virgin hockey by any means: There’s an excessive amount of puck chasing, there’s still too many extended shifts in the D zone, and the team still isn’t getting enough shots. in the net.
But there’s the same resilience in the playoffs that Rangers showed during the regular season. There is the same trust factor. There is the guardian.
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The Blueshirts can’t worry about who will or will not be in the Pittsburgh roster. They can’t wonder if Sidney Crosby will fit. They can’t worry about whether number one Tristan Jarry will be back in goal for the first time since breaking his foot in an April 14 win over the Islanders.
It’s about Rangers, who have shown a lot more teeth since Ryan Lindgren joined the fray in Game 5 after missing three games with a lower-body injury he suffered or exacerbated during the first game in triple overtime. Those are Lindgren’s two best games of the season. Probably not by chance at all, Adam Fox upped his game with the No. 55 to his left.
Kreider was here when the Rangers became the first and only team in NHL history to overcome series deficits 3-1 in consecutive years, coming back first in 2014 against the Penguins with the game 7 on the road, then the following year against the Capitals with Derek Stepan getting the overtime winner in Game 7 at the Garden. This zen scorer of 52 goals (plus four more in this series) can provide wisdom on what it takes to complete the comeback.
But the No.20 may also provide a warning about taking home ice for granted. Rangers were so sure of it when the 2015 Conference Finals against Tampa Bay ended in Game 7 at the Garden after winning Game 6 on the road. That’s what these teams did. That’s who they were. They came from behind in several series. They won game 7. They won game 7 on Broadway.
In fact, Rangers had gone 6-0 from 2012 to this Caps series in 2015 in Game 7 behind Henrik Lundqvist, and 4-0 at the Garden. They seemed invincible. Until they were shut out, 2-0, by the Lightning in this decisive game.
Lundqvist Rangers went 15-4 in potential playoff games during that aforementioned four-year streak. The Shesterkin Rangers are 2-0. They need one more to succeed and put their names next to Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal.
The Blueshirts arrived here when it seemed most unlikely less than a week ago. But while it’s better than the alternative, it’s still close to So What? and Nowhere. Rangers have located their foundations but are yet to play their best game. They will need it in this one. They will need it from Panarin.
The time has come. It’s time for the Rangers to meet him.
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