Hartnett: Zibanejad’s Historic Night Just What Rangers Needed

Scores 5 Goals As Blueshirts Stay In Wild-Card Striking Distance

Sean Hartnett
March 06, 2020 - 10:04 am

After losing three straight games, the Rangers needed a spark to reignite their playoff push. On Thursday, Mika Zibanejad served as the catalyst in a huge way.

The 26-year-old center scored five goals, including the overtime winner, to lift the Rangers to a 6-5 victory over the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals.

Zibanejad twice rallied the Blueshirts in the third period by netting go-ahead goals. After Washington captain Alex Ovechkin forced overtime by scoring with 43 seconds remaining in regulation, Zibanejad sensationally notched the game-winning goal 33 seconds into overtime.

Artemi Panarin sent a long-distance feed to Zibanejad from the Rangers’ end, and the 6-foot-2 Swede found daylight. Zibanejad bore down on Washington goalie Ilya Samsonov, deked and then lifted a backhander off the left post and in.

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad celebrates his game-winning goal against the Washington Capitals during overtime on March 5, 2020, at Madison Square Garden.
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Images

Immediately, he was greeted by a swarm of jubilant teammates. Tony DeAngelo embraced Zibanejad in a midair hug, and the Rangers’ bench emptied. Madison Square Garden erupted. Zibanejad became the third Ranger to record a five-goal game. Mark Pavelich accomplished the feat in 1983 and Don Murdoch did so in 1976.

Zibanejad also became the second player in NHL history to score five goals and the game-winning overtime goal in the same game. Previously, Sergei Fedorov netted five goals and the overtime winner in the Detroit Red Wings’ Dec. 26, 1996, victory over the Capitals.

Since Jan. 31, no NHL player has scored more goals than Zibanejad’s 17. Over his last 10 games, he has exploded for 20 points (14 goals, six assists).

Zibanejad has recorded 38 goals, 33 assists and 71 points through 54 games played. Despite missing 13 games due to an upper-body injury, he is only three points shy of tying his career best of 74 points, set last season. Should he continue on his current pace, the playmaking center would finish the regular season with 49 goals, 42 assists and 91 points.

As for the Rangers’ playoff picture, Thursday’s victory puts the Blueshirts within two points of the second wild card. The Columbus Blue Jackets currently hold the first wild-card position with 79 points through 68 games played. The 78-point Islanders trail Columbus by a single point, having played 66 games. Behind them, the Rangers have accumulated 76 points through 67 games. The Carolina Hurricanes sit in fourth place in the wild-card race with 75 points, having played 65 games. Carolina possesses two games in hand compared to the Rangers.

By all indications, this is going to be a frenzied chase to the finish. The Rangers have demonstrated an ability to play above their collective talent level and have rallied when injuries have struck. That kind of mentality could take this team further than anyone expected back in October.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.

Related: Boomer Esiason Reacts To Mika Zibanejad's 5-Goal Outburst: 'What A Game!'