The New York Rangers pulled off an incredible comeback after losing three of their first four games in their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though the Rangers’ star players struggled early in the series, New York’s top players rose to the challenge and delivered in the clutch, carrying the Rangers to three consecutive come-from-behind victories to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
Defensemen: Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba
In Game 5, with the Rangers trailing 2-0 in the second period, Adam Fox scored on a nice wrist shot from the point to start a comeback for the Rangers. A few minutes later, Jacob Trouba pinched in the offensive zone and assisted on Alexis Lafreniere’s game-tying goal. Just a few minutes after that goal, Trouba got the puck at the point, drove to the net, and scored a beautiful backhanded goal to give the Blueshirts the lead. After the Penguins tied the game, Filip Chytil scored early in the third period, which gave the Rangers back the lead. They went on to win 5-3.
All season, Fox and Trouba played excellent hockey at both ends of the ice, and they made timely plays in Game 5. They also played key roles (along with K’Andre Miller and Ryan Lindgren) in keeping the Penguins’ potent offense off the board late in the game. They made smart plays with the puck, and came up with some important blocked shots.
Trouba used his strength and size to win battles for loose pucks, while Fox used his quickness and positioning to make defensive plays.
In Game 6, the Rangers fell behind 2-0 once again, but they battled back behind a dominant performance from Fox. He got aggressive in the offensive zone, held onto the puck, and repeatedly used his great vision to set up teammates, finishing the game with four assists in another 5-3 victory.
Forwards: Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Artemi Panarin
Early in the series, the Penguins’ star forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jake Guentzel outplayed the Rangers’ top forwards but that changed in the final games of the series.
Though Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider didn’t provide much offense in Game 5, they stepped up in Game 6. Zibanejad scored two consecutive goals on slap shots in the second period. They both played well at even strength, and both excelled on the penalty kill.
With the game tied at two, Zibanejad got a breakaway on a power play, and even though he couldn’t score, Kreider collected the rebound and scored to give New York a 3-2 lead. With the game tied 3-3 late in the third, Kreider scored, beating Pittsburgh goalie Louis Domingue on a shot with Zibanejad providing a screen. The Rangers went on to add an empty-net goal in their 5-3 victory.
Kreider and Zibanejad were the Rangers’ best forwards in the series in every aspect of the game. In Game 7, they were physical, aggressive on the forecheck, and strong in the defensive zone. Zibanejad found Kreider on a two-on-one, and he scored on a slap shot to give the Rangers an early lead. After falling behind late in the second, and struggling to create scoring chances, Zibanejad scored on a slap shot from the slot to tie the game with just under six minutes left in the game to force overtime.
While Kreider and Zibanejad each had an excellent series, Panarin struggled. He missed the last few games of the regular season with a back injury, and never looked comfortable during the series. He was a little off with his timing and missed the net on too many of his scoring opportunities. However, in overtime of Game 7, he provided a moment of brilliance, as he got a strong wrist shot through traffic to beat Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry and send the Rangers into Round 2.
Goaltending: Igor Shesterkin
Igor Shesterkin will likely win the Vezina Trophy this season, and he is also a Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, but he struggled in Games 3 and 4 of this series. Uncharacteristically, he got caught out of position a few times, struggled to control rebounds, and had a few turnovers.
In Game 5 he turned a corner, as he bounced back after his turnover led to Pittsburgh’s game-tying goal in the second period. In the third period he stopped all 15 shots he faced, battling through heavy traffic to stop shots from the point while controlling his rebounds.
In Game 6, he made a brilliant stretch pass to set up Kreider’s first goal of the game. Additionally, he did not allow a goal in the third period for the second game in a row, stopping all eight shots he faced to send the series to Game 7.
All season, Shesterkin has played his best late in close games, and he continued to do so in this series. In Game 7, the Penguins outplayed the Rangers, but he kept them in the game with sprawling desperation saves and a couple of nice glove saves off of deflections. He stopped all 12 of the shots he faced in the third period, and both of the shots he faced in overtime. In total, he stopped 42 of 45 shots in the game, and outplayed Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
After struggling early in this series, all of the Rangers’ stars stepped up and came through when the team needed them most. They made the most of their opportunities, and found a way to pull off a very improbable series comeback to advance to the second round. They have a very tough series against the Carolina Hurricanes coming up, but this comeback should certainly give the Blueshirts confidence — and fans should be ecstatic — about the resilience of the Rangers’ best players.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.