The New York Rangers were one of the most interesting teams to follow in the NHL before the pause. Slowly inching up to a playoff spot, a red-hot Mika Zibanejad and the artistry of Artemi Panarin propelled the Rangers to relevance late in the season. But which moments during the 2019-20 season define this rollercoaster of a season the most? Let’s take a look.
5. The Season Opener
The long summer wait was over. The Rangers and its fan base finally got the chance to see what this team would look like in its first game of the season against the Winnipeg Jets. And it is truly hard to find a better game that represents the season as a whole. The Rangers scored first with veteran Marc Staal getting the first goal of the season and the game was back and forth the rest of the way.
Panarin and Jacob Trouba both sniped their first goals on Broadway, with the “Bread Man” finishing the night with two points. New York would go on to win 6-4 as the Rangers pulled away in the third with goals from Zibanejad, Brett Howden and Brendan Smith. The up-and-down play from the Rangers in the season opener was indicative of how the season would turn out. But it was evident in this first game that this team would be fast-paced, high-scoring and with a touch of inexperience as well.
4. Zibanejad’s Overtime Blast Against Islanders
A Rangers-Islanders game at Nassau Coliseum feels less like a hockey game and more like a 60-minute fist fight filled with excitement and nervousness. The Rangers were on a three-game win streak in late February and needed two points against its rival to cover some ground in the standings. In a tight game where Brock Nelson miraculously tied it at 3-3 with 18 seconds remaining, the Rangers seemed like they would lose a valuable point headed into the extra frame. But, Zibanejad had other ideas.
Just 28 seconds into overtime, Panarin raced towards the Islanders’ end with the puck on his stick. With Islanders draped all over him, Panarin pushed the puck into open space and Zibanjead smashed home the game-winner with an emphatic slap shot past Semyon Varlamov to give the Rangers a monumental 4-3 win on the road. This win validated exactly how high and hopeful the mood was on Broadway and it only made fans believe in a playoff push even more.
3. Shesterkin’s First NHL Win
Igor Shesterkin showed ample amounts of promise in just the 10 games the Russian rookie appeared in. However, the most eye-opening was his first win. The Rangers’ front office and fan base finally had a chance to see if their prized goalie was the real deal or not.
On Jan. 7, head coach David Quinn gave Shesterkin the green light against the Colorado Avalanche. The former KHL goalie came up with 32 saves on the night as he collected his first win in the red, white and blue. Shesterkin’s first win the NHL symbolized a new goaltending era for the Rangers, as Henrik Lundqvist slowly but surely inches further away from the starting goalie crease.
2. Panarin Breaks Gretzky’s Record
Panarin is arguably the most talented player to play on Broadway since Jaromir Jagr. The Russian winger made it clear to the Rangers that he was worth his hefty contract when he surpassed a record previously held by The Great One. After Panarin recorded his 61st point, he officially beat Wayne Gretzky for most points by a Ranger through their first 43 games with the franchise.
Panarin is the new beacon of hope for the Rangers’ faithful for seasons to come. This accomplishment was only the beginning for him, as he totaled 95 points in 69 games before the NHL pause.
1. Zibanejad’s 5-Goal Masterpiece
What a night it was. If you’re a fan of the Rangers, you can probably recall where you were and how Sam Rosen’s voice sounded on March 5. Zibanejad had been on a scoring tear, and this game was the icing on the cake that lit up the hockey world.
The Rangers faced the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden and Zibanejad had a night to remember. One goal in the first, one in the second, two in the third and the exclamation point in sudden death. Panarin found Zibanejad all alone streaking towards the goal in the Capitals’ zone. Zibanejad took it all the way to the net and roofed the backhand into the twine to give the Rangers an electric 6-5 win in overtime. The performance may have been one of the best regular-season showings of any Ranger ever. It is more than deserving of the best season-defining moment of 2019-20.
Sophomore journalism major at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Business director and play-by-play broadcaster for WMUC Sports. Former intern for the Anton Media Group.