Only linemate Chris Kreider has been with the Rangers longer than Mika Zibanejad.
They were both with the organization the last time the Blueshirts won a playoff series in 2017, and they contributed mightily over the last couple of games to help front the Rangers to a seven-game ousting of the Penguins with a 4-3 overtime victory Sunday night at the Garden.
Zibanejad netted the game-tying goal late in the third period and then assisted on Artemi Panarin’s overtime winner on the power play to finish the final two games of the series with three goals and seven points.
“Like I’ve been repeating, like everyone’s been repeating, we didn’t want the season to end,” Zibanejad said. “This has been our team all year. No matter how the game goes, we stick together and we work and we know what we have in that locker room.
“We said before the third we didn’t have anything to save it for. Doing the little things to try to advance pucks and try to win the one-on-one battles that’s what we talked about. Obviously the intensity level and a little bit of desperation kicks in when the clock starts winding down.”
The Rangers, who overcame two-goal deficits to win each of the previous two games after falling behind 3-1 to open the series, trailed for much of the third period after Pittsburgh’s Evan Rodrigues had tallied a shorthanded goal late in the second.
Zibanejad collected a loose puck in the slot and fired it past returning Pens goalie Tristan Jarry for the equalizer with 5:45 left in the third.
“He’s been our best two-way player all year, and he finds a puck in the slot, and as we all know, he knows where that corner is,” head coach Gerard Gallant said.
The 29-year-old Zibanejad has been with the Rangers since a trade from Ottawa in 2016, and he signed a eight-year contract extension worth $68 million in 2021. The Swedish center said the atmosphere at the Garden was unlike any he’s heard, especially the emotional eruption after he assisted on Panarin’s OT winner.
“It’s crazy. I don’t think I’ve heard this building louder than that,” Zibanejad said. “People have been talking about Game 7 here and the crowd was unreal tonight. … Being back in the playoffs here was something I was looking forward to and with the team that we have, it’s incredible.”
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