Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin shoots against the Islanders on Feb. 25, 2020, at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Images

Hartnett: Panarin Bolsters MVP Case In Win Over Islanders

Winger Has Rangers In Striking Distance Of Wild-Card Spot

Sean Hartnett
February 26, 2020 - 10:55 am

If you’re still on the fence about Artemi Panarin’s Hart Trophy candidacy, his scintillating performance in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime victory against the rival Islanders should be all the evidence needed to kick his MVP campaign into full gear.

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Panarin’s impressive effort late in the first period allowed the Rangers to gain a 1-0 lead. He started the play with a carry across three zones, breezing past two Islanders on the way. Panarin then dished off the puck to Tony DeAngelo at the blue line, DeAngelo fed Ryan Lindgren with a cross-ice pass, and Lindgren then assisted a wide-open Panarin on the far post.

While the Islanders’ attention was diverted to the Rangers’ fancy puck movement, Panarin sneaked behind the net to reappear in prime scoring territory without an Islander anywhere near him. It was just another example of the savvy positioning and smarts that Panarin demonstrates on a nightly basis.

A continuing theme of Tuesday’s contest was Panarin’s ability to weave in, out and around the opposition. He was credited with a game-high two takeaways, the last of which produced the game-winning goal not long into the three-on-three overtime.

As Anthony Beauvillier skated toward the Rangers’ zone, Panarin tied up Beauvillier’s stick and won control of the puck. He then darted across center ice, into the Islanders’ zone, where he was met with the attention of all three Islanders near the corner boards. While being swarmed by a gang of Islanders, Panarin was able to use his reach to slide the puck to Mika Zibanejad, who rocketed a one-timer past Semyon Varlamov.

With 20 regular season games left, the Rangers are only separated from the second wild-card position by four points. The Columbus Blue Jackets, who have recorded 76 points through 65 games are currently holding that positon and have played three more games than the 72-point Rangers.

As long as Panarin is healthy, the Rangers will have a strong chance of remaining in the thick of the playoff race until season’s end. The 28-year-old wing has played an integral role in the Blueshirts rattling off 11 wins over the last 14 games. Panarin himself has tallied 14 points (five goals, nine assists) over this span.

In his first season as a Ranger, Panarin has already established a new career high with 32 goals and is two points away from setting a new personal best in that category. His 85 points are only bettered by Leon Draisaitl (99), David Pastrnak (88) and Connor McDavid (87) on the NHL leaderboard.

Panarin is on pace to finish the year with 42 goals, 70 assists and 112 points. Should he continue on this trend, he would finish with the second most points of any season in the Rangers’ 94-year history. Jaromir Jagr holds the franchise single-season record of 123 points, set in the 2005-06 season.

If Panarin keeps producing at this rate and the Rangers chase hard after a playoff berth, there shouldn’t be any hesitation for Professional Hockey Writers' Association voters to strongly consider him as the Hart Trophy favorite. Heading into this season, few expected the Rangers to be in the playoff conversation.

Panarin hasn’t accomplished that alone. Zibanejad has been excellent and will probably finish with a career-best point total despite missing a stretch of 13 consecutive games. DeAngelo and Ryan Strome are playing the finest hockey of their lives. Igor Shesterkin was a revelation in net before a car accident interrupted his season.

Even though there are many reasons why the Rangers are outperforming the prognosticators, Panarin shines above all, and his impact on this team contending for the playoffs ahead of schedule is undeniable.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.