In a series billed to be a goaltending duel between two of the league’s best – Andrei Vasilevskiy and Igor Shesterkin – the New York Rangers‘ offense shined in a 6-2 Game-1 win. It took just 30 minutes for the Rangers to match the goal total the Tampa Bay Lightning allowed all series against the Florida Panthers (3), and by the final horn, the Blueshirts had doubled that total, all in Game 1.
The Rangers have scored 17 goals in their last three games, a significant increase from the nine goals in their previous five games. With the offense firing on all cylinders, head coach Gerard Gallant’s group looks formidable, regardless of the goaltender in the net.
This postseason has seen an incredible run for Mika Zibanejad and the emergence of the ‘Kid Line,’ with Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko all performing well in crucial moments. Chris Kreider has scored vital goals, as have Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano. Adam Fox and company on the backend have improved drastically from a sluggish start in the Pittsburgh Penguins series, and, of course, Shesterkin is back to his otherworldly form.
For Artemi Panarin, arguably the Rangers’ best player, the 2022 postseason has been tough-sledding. He is still tied for third on the Rangers in points with 13, but he has not performed at the level we know he is capable of. Over the last three games, he has looked more like himself, and if Game 1 of this series can propel him to his usual form, the Rangers will become even harder to play against.
Panarin Riding Rangers’ Surge
There have been times during these playoffs when Panarin has looked off. It’s assumed he is battling injury, but the Rangers star was missing something. As the playoffs continue, he has shown glimpses and scored big goals, including his Game 7 heroics in Round 1 vs the Penguins.
Now Panarin looks to be finding consistency, tallying points in three straight games and scoring goals in two of those contests. He is starting to look more engaged, culminating in what was one of, if not his best game of the postseason in the opening match of the Eastern Conference Final. Throughout Game 1, Panarin was involved in several board battles and plays in his end, using his natural poise with the puck in tight areas along the blue line.
His lone goal of Game 1, which came 30 seconds into the third period, saw him blow past the defenders and release a quick shot off a pass to beat Vasilevskiy. His explosiveness and quick release is something we have not seen a lot of from him in these playoffs, which points to him being more confident in his game.
Panarin followed that up with a beautiful seam pass on the power play to Zibanejad for the game’s sixth goal. It was a vintage Panarin-Zibanejad connection that usually means both players are in sync. The increase in Panarin’s production of late is directly correlated to Zibanejad’s surge, and the Rangers’ power play scored for the sixth consecutive game.
Related Story: Rangers’ Shesterkin Showing Mental Toughness in Playoffs
Contributions from their stars, deadline additions, defense, and the kids have been exemplary. Unlocking Panarin’s full capability makes the Rangers far more dangerous, and Game 1 might be a sign that he will break out this series.
Panarin Can Break Out Against the Lightning
When you continuously are better than a point-per-game player, the bar tends to be raised, but 13 points in 15 playoff games are nothing to scoff at. Panarin has played below par, but a breakout could be coming in this series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
There are two critical factors to Panarin’s pending breakout: A battle amongst countrymen and more room to maneuver. Every player has a unique motive and is driven by internal forces to want to succeed. This Lightning vs Rangers series is full of stars from Russia. The goaltending duel is two elite goalies from Russia, while Nikita Kucherov and Panarin are two of the best Russian forwards in the game (from ‘Igor Shesterkin outplays Andrei Vasilevskiy in Rangers’ Game 1 win,’ NY Post – 6/2/22).
Bragging rights and the ability to top their countrymen might be extra motivation, and for a player like Panarin, who has been dominant the past three seasons, his success has been overshadowed by Kucherov’s timely scoring prowess and uncanny ability to perform under the bright lights of the postseason. Panarin could outperform one of the best playoff performers in recent memory, which bodes well for the Rangers.
The Rangers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, who play a swarming defense style, in the last round. The Hurricanes limited their time and space, making it extremely difficult for a player like Panarin to maneuver. The Lightning know how to win, but they don’t swarm the puck, which gives Panarin more room to operate. Tampa Bay’s top defensive pairing will be focused on the Zibanejad line, so Panarin should find more space on the ice to produce.
Riding the coattails of an impressive Game 1, the hope is that Panarin can regain his regular-season form. If he manages to do so, the Rangers will have three lines that can score at will; a scenario that will cause nightmares for any opponent, even if they are the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!