ST. PAUL, Minn. — Whether it’s a game or a playoff race, the Rangers never believe they’re out of it.
The truth of that under postseason pressure is still to be determined, but the Blueshirts proved their tenacity again in authoring a dramatic come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win over the Wild on Thursday night.
After Mika Zibanejad tied it with goalie Alexandar Georgiev on the bench for the extra attacker and 66 seconds left in regulation, Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin both scored in the skills competition while Ryan Donato and Zach Parise failed for Minnesota to give the Rangers their first three-game winning streak since Thanksgiving.
“It’s just that time of the year,” Ryan Strome said. “We’re aware of our situation. I think 10 days to the [Feb. 24] trade deadline, and obviously the playoffs looming and where we are in the standings.”
The Rangers (29-23-4) remained nine points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they were already looking at the second leg of this back-to-back and the final game of this three-game trip Friday night at Columbus as a contest with big implications in the standings. Whereas this match against the Wild (27-23-7) was a test of playing a big, physical team that defends well — not exactly the Rangers strong suit.
“The standings are what they are, but this team is a heavy team, they play physical, as you can tell, and it’s tough to get on the inside on these guys,” Strome said. “I thought we did a good job being patient.”
There was the mental patience not to get overly concerned when goals from Donato, Jonas Brodin and Jordan Greenway buried Panarin’s 29th of the season to give Minnesota a 3-1 lead going into the third period. But Pavel Buchnevich just tossed a puck toward the net and it bounced around before going in at 11:51 of the third to make it 3-2.
And then Zibanejad deftly redirected a great feed from Panarin, the puck slowly making its way past goalie Alex Stalock and in off the right post to tie it.
“It was a great pass,” Zibanejad said. “I’ve never seen a puck go that slow into the net.”
Georgiev made a couple of big stops in the 3-on-3 overtime, allowing his team to get to the shootout — in which he didn’t even have to touch a puck, as Donato lost control before shooting and Parise’s backhand clanked the crossbar. There was a review for Panarin’s tally, as he came very close to slowing to a complete halt.
But it was upheld, and the Rangers’ ability to come back has them on their best streak in over three months.
“It’s a great win for us,” Strome said, “and it’s time to move on.”