Mika Zibanejad’s power play goal with a little over seven minutes left in the third period proved to be the game winner as the Rangers scored a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes Sunday night.
There was a large contingent of Ranger fans at the 5,000 seat Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University as the Rangers completed a two game sweep of their Western road trip.
Artemi Panarin had a goal and two assists on his 31st birthday, and Igor Shesterkin made 18 saves, including a couple of crucial ones in the third period, while becoming the first Ranger goalie to play in back-to-back games this season.
“It’s never easy. Back-to-back games, this is the third one already in ten games, you know they found a way,” Head Coach Gerard Gallant said after the game. “I thought they [Rangers] played a great first period, we really played a lot in their zone and then, after that, they took it to us a little bit but overall I thought we played a good, solid game from everybody.”
It was just about 27 hours after the win in Dallas on Saturday, but the Rangers seemed to be none the worse for wear in the first period as they dominated the Coyotes and did everything but score.
The Rangers got their first power play chance midway through the first but, despite relentless pressure in the Coyotes zone, they came up empty. Coyotes’ goaltender Connor Ingram denied the Rangers on four shots on goal with the man advantage and then two more just seconds after the power play expired.
The Rangers outshot the Coyotes, 15-7, but the game was scoreless after one.
In the second, Alexis LaFreniere ended a mild goal scoring drought as he scored his second of the season to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
LaFreniere had not scored in six games, dating back to October 17, but he took a beautiful feed from Panarin and was able to put the puck in the net as he was falling down. “Nice play by bread,” LaFreniere said. “When you play with guys like that, just go to the net and good things happen. He found me and I just drove back door and great play by him.”
With Panarin in the penalty box for hooking, Coyotes’ left wing Lawson Crouse tied the game at the end of a pretty passing play as he was wide open in the slot to beat Shesterkin.
Less than five minutes later, Ryan Lindgren had trouble playing the puck and it rolled out in front where Nick Bjugstad was able to put it past a helpless Shesterkin as the Coyotes took a 2-1 lead.
With less than two minutes left in the second period, the Rangers tied the game at two. The birthday boy shook off a check by Coyotes defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to beat Ingram for the game tying goal.
Panarin took a “head man” feed from Adam Fox at the red line and came down the right side with Gostisbehere on his back. “The Bread Man” kept driving to the net and his shot bounced off the post and hit Ingram’s arm before going in.
Shesterkin came up big in the opening minutes of the third period as he stopped Arizona’s Matias Maccelli who was wide open in the left faceoff circle. A few minutes later, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner stoned the Coyotes on a flurry in front of the net.
Rangers were 0 for 2 on the power play before Arizona’s Dylan Guenther was called for hooking and the third time was a charm, thanks to some creativity.
Panarin passed the puck down low to Kreider who tipped a pass through the crease to Zibanejad who was open on the left side of the net. Zibanejad did not miss as he put it past Coyotes goaltender Connor Ingram (27 seconds after Dylan Guenther went to the box for hooking) for the go ahead goal and his sixth of the season. “It was a great play by Bread [Panarin] to Kreids [Kreider], for me, just try to hit the net, try to get the puck to go in and this time it went in,” Zibanejad said.
Rangers have 9 power play goals in 38 attempts and are 12 th in the league in power play percentage at 23.7%. “It’s fast. Everyone can shoot, everyone can make plays so it’s dangerous,” said LaFreniere.
In the closing minute, the Coyotes pulled their goaltender and Kreider made a great defensive play to seal the win. After Barclay Goodrow won a face off, Kreider won a battle for the puck near the blue line and got it out of the Ranger zone as time wound down.
On Tuesday night, the Rangers open a four game homestand against the ol’ friend John Tortorella and the surprising Flyers. They’ll also see the high flying Bruins, Red Wings and a rematch with the Islanders.
Rangers will have more back to backs to deal with so would Gallant play the same goaltender in both games? “Might do it again someday, you never know,” he said with a smile.