While the New York Rangers do not have a captain, alternate captains Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad have delivered in the playoffs. They have been New York’s best forwards this postseason and after leading the Blueshirts past the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, the duo helped spark a Game 3 victory in New York’s second-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Though the Rangers got off to a slow start against the Penguins this postseason, Kreider played well throughout the series. He scored a clutch shorthanded goal with a nice deke in Game 1 of New York’s first-round series.
The Rangers’ penalty kill struggled against Pittsburgh with Tyler Motte, Barclay Goodrow, and Ryan Lindgren all missing time. However, Kreider and Zibanejad consistently played well shorthanded, using their strength to win battles for the puck and their speed to create scoring opportunities.
Kreider created havoc with his presence in front of the net, especially on the power play and he scored on a deflection in New York’s 5-2 victory in Game 2. He also provided a screen on a Ryan Strome goal in Game 2 and the Rangers scored many of their goals in the series with Kreider screening Pittsburgh’s goalie.
Later in the series, Kreider came up with two clutch goals in Game 6 with the Rangers facing elimination on the road in Pittsburgh. With the game tied at two, he batted in a rebound to give the Blueshirts the lead. Then, with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, he switched roles with Zibanejad as he scored the game-winning goal with Zibanejad providing a screen in front of the net.
Following his strong Game 6 performance, in Game 7 Kreider scored a goal with a great shot off a pass from Zibanejad on a 2-on-1. Their line was New York’s only one that consistently generated scoring chances in Game 7. Kreider also provided the screen on Artemi Panarin’s overtime goal, which sent the Rangers to the second round.
Though the Rangers scored just one goal in their first two games in the second-round series against the Hurricanes, Kreider scored the game-winning goal in Game 3 with a great shot from a bad angle. He has six goals and two assists in 10 postseason games. He also did an excellent job playing alongside Zibanejad while shorthanded, as New York killed all three of Carolina’s power plays in the game, including two in the third period with the Rangers clinging to a one-goal lead.
Early in the series against the Penguins, Zibanejad created a lot of scoring opportunities but missed the net too many times. He played well defensively and set up teammates, but he had no goals in the first five games of the series.
In Game 6, down 3-2 in the series and 2-0 in the game, Zibanejad broke through with a power-play goal on a one-timer. A few minutes later he scored on another one-timer from the point to tie the game. He also assisted on Kreider’s go-ahead goal in the second period and on his game-winning goal in the third period.
Zibanejad once again set up Kreider for the Blueshirts’ first goal of Game 7, but the Rangers fell behind and trailed by one late in the third period. New York couldn’t create many scoring chances but their star center came up with a clutch steal in the offensive zone and scored with a quick release to tie the game and send it to overtime.
In Game 3 against Carolina, Zibanejad came through with a power-play goal to give the Rangers a lead even though the Hurricanes had generated far more scoring chances. He also assisted on Kreider’s second-period goal, which gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead. He has four goals and nine assists in 10 postseason games.
Zibanejad also won eight of his 15 faceoffs in the game, including some key ones in the defensive zone late in the game. The whole team has struggled on faceoffs this postseason and the Rangers’ centers haven’t gotten support from their linemates, so it is especially encouraging that their top center managed to win some important faceoffs while holding onto a one-goal lead.
For the Rangers
The Rangers have relied very heavily on their star players all season, but with Panarin struggling, they have needed Kreider and Zibanejad to step up and so far they have done just that. They are leading by example and they have used their speed and strength to create scoring chances. They have also played very well on both the power play and penalty kill.
Zibanejad and Kreider each played a crucial role in New York’s improbable comeback after trailing 3-1 in their first-round series against Pittsburgh and the Blueshirts will need both of them to continue playing well in order to come back from trailing 2-0 in their series against Carolina. Game 3 was a great start, as both stars scored in the Rangers’ 3-1 victory. Now they must carry this momentum into Game 4 and continue to get strong play from Kreider and Zibanejad as they look to level the series.
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.