The New York Rangers broke onto the scene with a thrilling season, backed by the always stellar Artemi Panarin and Hart-finalist goalie Igor Shesterkin. The Blueshirts finished second in the Metro Division and cracked the playoffs for the first time in five years, squaring off against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
However, the Blueshirts didn’t get off to the start they were looking for, as the Rangers fell behind 3-1 in the series. Things were looking gloomy. Mike Sullivan was one step ahead of Gerard Gallant. Key contributors such as Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox were letting their team down. Shesterkin was extremely vulnerable; pulled in back-to-back games. But despite their woes, the Blueshirts came back to win the next three games in thrilling fashion, as they sealed the series with a walk-off victory in overtime on May 15 and will now take on the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 18.
Game 1 kicked off an incredible series. With the game tied late in the third period, Filip Chytil appeared to have a go-ahead goal in regulation’s final four minutes, but was overturned due to goalie interference on Kaapo Kakko; a call that did not resonate well with Rangers fans as Chytil appeared to be pushed in by Penguins’ defender Brian Dumoulin. The game went not one, not two, but three overtime periods, with the Rangers mightily struggling to put the puck in the net; even after the Penguins later had to turn to third-string goalie Louis Domingue due to injuries. Six minutes into the third overtime period and approximately 10 minutes shy of midnight, center Evengi Malkin shot it into the net, sending everyone home and putting Shesterkin’s 79 saves to waste.
The Rangers bounced back two nights later, as Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome, Chris Kreider, Panarin and Frank Vatrano each scored goals in a 5-2 Rangers win. New York would then head to Pittsburgh for the next two games, hoping to turn this series around.
Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. The always reliable Shesterkin was penetrable, allowing 10 goals in Games 3 and 4, being pulled for backup Alexander Georgiev twice. The Rangers’ offense nearly mounted a 4-1 comeback in Game 3, but fell short and lost once again in Game 4. Just like that, they were one less away from elimination.
The Blueshirts looked to correct the ship in Game 5, and did just that. After falling behind 2-0, Adam Fox, Alexis Lafrenière and Jacob Trouba scored goals within 180 seconds to put the Rangers on top 3-2. It didn’t last long; Jake Guentzel, who proved to be a menace this series, tied it with two minutes left. But Chytil scored shortly into the third period, and a Ryan Lindgren empty net goal ensured this series was going back to Pittsburgh.
Once again, the Rangers found themselves in a 2-0 hole. But Zibanejad’s two second-period goals tied it, and Kreider gave the Rangers the lead, along with a rare assist to the goalie Shesterkin. The Penguins tied it later, but with 1:28 left in regulation, Kreider struck again to put the Blueshirts on top. Just like that, this series was going to a do-or-die Game 7.
It wouldn’t get any easier for the Rangers though. Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby, who missed the past two games due to injury, and goalie Tristan Jarry, who hadn’t appeared all series, were returning to the rink. They knew this was going to be the most difficult challenge yet.
The two teams were tied at one about halfway through, and then another controversial call occurred in the second period. Guentzel shot one in, and even after replay showed a possible high-stick on the shot, the NHL replay center showed New York no mercy. K’Andre Miller later tied it, but Evan Rodrigues put the Penguins on top with a shorthanded goal to end the second.
The third period started, and the Rangers were watching the clock run down. But with six minutes left, Zibanejad tied the game at 3. The Rangers and Penguins kept each other in check the rest of regulation, and the clock wound down, meaning this would be the 46th Stanley Cup Playoff Game 7 that would go to overtime in NHL history.
Three minutes in, Miller drew a holding penalty from Brock McGinn, meaning the Penguins would be short-handed for two minutes. The Rangers mainly shuffled the puck around throughout those two minutes, but two seconds before McGinn would be allowed to get back out, Panarin – who had been brutally struggling all game — shot one past Jarry and into the net, sending the Blueshirts to Round 2.
The Rangers now advance to face the Hurricanes, who are coming off their own thrilling Game 7 win against the Boston Bruins. Carolina had their number in the regular season; they took three of four from them. They were the only team in the Metro Division to finish ahead of the Rangers, finishing with six points more than New York. Notably, they’ll face old friend Tony DeAngelo, who ran himself out of town with a series of antics in 2021. That series will start on Wednesday, May 18, in PNC Arena.
For Ranger fans, this series win is a huge deal: Not only for the huge comeback, but also because this team hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2016-2017 season. Since then, the Rangers transitioned into a rebuilding team, and were uncompetitive for a few seasons. But they built from the ground up, and after a few failed playoff pushes in 2020 and 2021, they now aspire for more than just making the playoffs.