Rangers’ refusal to surrender mirrors 2015 team’s winning DNA

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There were the Rangers celebrating in that same left corner at the Seventh Ave. end of the Garden that they had seven years and two days earlier. 

There were the Rangers doing it again. 

Then it was Derek Stepan with a Game 7 overtime winner to complete the rally from 3-1 down in the series and propel the 2015 Blueshirts to the next round. This time it was Artemi Panarin, we kid you not, who triggered the wild celebration after No. 10’s power-play precision snipe at 4:46 of OT elevated his team to a 4-3 victory over the Penguins to complete this rally from 3-1 down in the series and a second-round hookup with Carolina. 

Sidney Crosby returned after a one-game absence. No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry was in nets for the first time since he sustained a broken foot in an April 14 match against the Islanders. Rickard Rakell returned for the first time since he was concussed in Game 1 of this series. 

You know what, though? 

Igor Shesterkin returned, too. He returned to the form that earned the 26-year-old finalist designations for both the Hart and Vezina trophies, putting those nightmares from Games 3 and 4 to bed for good. Shesterkin returned and so did the Rangers return to the template they rode to a 110-point season, that, by the way, has been fully validated. 

This is their way. They lean on Shesterkin to the same degree as their forebearers once leaned on Henrik Lundqvist. They rely on their marquee forwards and their power play to make the difference. They do not surrender. They do not give up. 

These Rangers refuse to surrender
These Rangers refuse to surrender
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

They are far greater than the sum of their parts. 

“That’s our team,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “We compete, we battle and we find ways to win games that maybe we shouldn’t have.” 

Shesterkin was not the only Ranger to finish this series stronger than he had begun it. He grew. So did the indomitable Mika Zibanejad, whose right-wing rifle tied the contest 3-3 with 5:45 remaining in regulation. I have said this before, and it is true. There is no one you would rather have with the puck on his stick with the game on the line than No. 93. 

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“No matter how the game goes or what happens, we stick together,” said Zibanejad, who finished the series with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) including seven (3-4) in the last two games. “We know what we have in that locker room. All we can do is work hard, do our best, stick together and think that good things will happen.” 

The 2015 Rangers celebrate after their 3-1 series comeback.
The 2015 Rangers celebrate after their 3-1 series comeback.
AP

It was Zibanejad who had set up Chris Kreider, another who finished stronger than he started, for the first goal of the match on a two-on-one feed that No. 20 converted to move into a tie for Mark Messier for second on the all-time franchise playoff goal-scoring list with 29. Only Rod Gilbert (34) has more. 

If there are all sorts of big-game pedigree for Kreider, who made his NHL debut as a 20-year-old in Game 3 of the 2012 first round against Ottawa, there are young Rangers who are earning that pedigree now. 

Adam Fox is on that list, so is Ryan Lindgren and so is K’Andre Miller, whose dash down the left side and drive to the net drew a holding penalty from Brock McGinn that set up the fateful power play. 

The Rangers had been dreadful on their first three man-advantages, even yielding a shorthanded goal to Evan Rodrigues following a Filip Chytil blunder on an entry that gave Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead at 17:25 of the second period. They had lapsed into too much perimeter passing. 

But on this power play … on this one after Zibanejad won a right-circle draw 1:02 into the advantage, the Rangers moved it. A couple of shots were blocked. The Blueshirts were able to retrieve the puck. It went to Fox, it went to Panarin … and one of the most mundane seven games of Panarin’s career had ended with a punctuation mark and celebration. 

Mika Zibanejad celebrates after his game-tying goal.
Mika Zibanejad celebrates after his game-tying goal.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

“He’s the guy, I said to myself, I know he’s going to score if we do,” Gallant said. “If we get the winning goal it’s going to be him, and sure enough he makes a great play.” 

There were way too many chances against, way too many high-danger chances. The analytics people must be aghast at this victory in which the Blueshirts had an xGF of 35.08 percent, just as that subset has been, game after game, month after month, victory after victory. The analytics community still has not devised a formula that measures heart. 

The 2014 and 2015 teams that pulled off this feat were filled with veterans. These were playoff-tested teams, having gone to the conference finals in 2012, the second round in 2013 and the final in 2014. The Blueshirts of that vintage had been to the playoffs every year but one since 2006. 

This situation is very different. Except maybe not all different at all. The celebrations sure seemed the same.

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