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Rangers finally secure 54th win of season to set franchise record

The third time was, in fact, the charm for the Rangers, who had swung and missed on their previous two opportunities to secure their 54th win of the season and set a franchise record. 

It had evaded the Blueshirts as their five-on-five offense went cold, but they finally broke through with an even-strength, game-tying goal at the end of the third period to set themselves up for a 3-2 shootout win over the Islanders on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. 

“You want to make sure that you’re doing your best, make sure you’re getting the two points, getting the wins and if you do that well enough, then you get a chance to play for the Stanley Cup,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “The regular season has to happen for everybody, 82 games. The fact that this group was able to battle hard the way they did and collect 54, I think that’s something they should be proud of from a regular-season standpoint.” 

Artemi Panarin (10) celebrates with his teammates after scoring the game-tying goal in the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout win over the Islanders. Robert Sabo for NY Post

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done. You play the regular season to get to the playoffs and that’s what it’s all about.” 

The Rangers were trailing by a goal in the final frame when Artemi Panarin, sitting on the bench, smashed his stick on the boards. 

Well into their ninth period without a five-on-five goal, the Rangers were drawing dangerously close to dropping their third game in a row, something they haven’t done since a four-game skid in early January. 

However, off a clean faceoff win from Vincent Trocheck later in the period, Panarin wristed the puck right under the crossbar to even the score at two-all with 4:17 left in regulation.

He came down on one knee and slid across the ice in an emphatic celebration as the Garden erupted. 

It proved to be enough to force overtime, where Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin had to make four saves while Islanders netminder Ilya Sorokin wasn’t tested once.

Igor Shesterkin makes a glove save in overtime of the Rangers’ shootout win over the Islanders. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Panarin and Trocheck scored in the shootout as Shesterkin denied Kyle Palmieri and Brock Nelson. 

“I was a little pissed because we couldn’t score,” Panarin told The Post of his stick slam. “Real emotion, just can’t keep it in. And I have a bunch of sticks this year. [The goal] was unbelievable, especially when the crowd went like that, you can’t buy that for any money.” 

The Rangers commanded the first few minutes of the game, posting the first five shots on goal as the Islanders got their feet under them.

It didn’t take long for the Islanders to stabilize and counter in an atmosphere that quickly took on the feeling of playoff hockey. 

Mika Zibanejad made his presence known for the Rangers. Robert Sabo for NY Post

Mika Zibanejad asserted himself early on in this one, taking charge whenever he had the puck on his stick and aggressively creating scoring opportunities when he was on the ice. 

Leading all skaters with five shots on goal in the first period alone, on the way to a game-high eight on the day, Zibanejad helped set the tone through a scoreless opening frame.

He then extended his point streak to five games by recording the primary assist on the Rangers’ first goal of the game at the 4:33 mark of the second. 

Jumping out on a shorthanded rush opportunity, Zibanejad hit a trailing Braden Schneider, who buried his own rebound to put the Rangers up, 1-0.

The equalizer came later in the middle frame, however, as did the Islanders’ first go-ahead goal. 

Nelson posted both, chipping in his own rebound during a scrambly Rangers sequence before Hudson Fasching’s wraparound pass set him up for a wide-open shot at the tail end of the period. 

“Every time we play them, it always feels a little more intense, but especially now where there’s still points to be had and position that can happen,” Schneider said. “It was really an emotional game. It was really intense. It was a lot of fun. You like having those going into it.” 

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