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Rangers’ power play finally gets going in win over Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — Apparently the key to the Rangers scoring on the power play is for them to attack and shoot while not on the power play.

Confused even more than the Blueshirts have appeared to be with the man-advantage for much of the last few weeks? Let’s discuss.

Vincent Trocheck picked up a weak roughing penalty at 12:36 of a scoreless first period on Sunday against the Panthers. One minute and four seconds later, Sam Bennett’s goaltender interference infraction negated Florida’s man-advantage and created a four-on-four manpower situation for the next 56 seconds.

Time was winding down in the four-on-four when Adam Fox’s feed sent Artemi Panarin through the neutral zone before No. 10’s relay sprung Mika Zibanejad in alone on Sergei Bobrovsky while operating in the wide open-spaces four-on-four allows.

Zibanejad, who’d scored the Blueshirts’ lone goal in Thursday’s 2-1 shootout defeat in Tampa, split two defensemen at the line before losing control on a deke before the puck nevertheless slid in five-hole along the ice on a seemingly surprised netminder for a 1-0 lead.

Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrates his second goal of the game against the Florida Panthers with teammate Kaapo Kakko on Sunday.

Though Trocheck hadn’t quite made it onto the ice when the puck entered the net, the scoreboard clock showed 5:24 remaining in the period. Which, technically, meant that the Rangers had scored on a power play that had been on streaks of 0-for-9 and 1-for-18 after failing on an earlier man-advantage.

Indeed, that success energized the first unit to such a degree that the club recorded a second power-play goal, and a legit one on which Trocheck drove to the right doorstep to convert a Chris Kreider backdoor feed.

And those goals helped carry the Blueshirts to a 5-3 victory over the Puddy Tats in a game that was probably a little tougher than necessary with the visitors allowing Florida to cut three two-goal leads in half within 3:27, 3:18 and 1:15 respectively in the second and third periods.

The Rangers, though, are not going to quibble about style points when the only ones that mattered are the two they earned for the victory.

The Zibanejad power-play-goal was the lone goal of the period in which the Rangers had the better of the play in front of Jaroslav Halak, whose most challenging save in his first start in 15 days came on Bennett in a shorthanded situation four minutes into the contest.

The Blueshirts never quite asserted themselves in a second period in which they twice assumed two-goal leads at 2-0 and 3-1 but left for the intermission up by just 3-2 after being outshot 13-7 in the middle 20 minutes while shorthanded three times within 8:02.

Zibanejad and Kreider both converted feeds from Kaapo Kakko for goals — the first at 10:30, the next at 15:44 — but the Blueshirts yielded a pair themselves, the second coming on Bennett’s power-play off a long rebound with 58 seconds remaining in the period.

Rangers center Barclay Goodrow (21) gets involved with Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) during the first period on Sunday.

This was the first game of the 2023 calendar year following a 2022 in which the club had gone 51-28-8 during the regular season. The Rangers were just off the playoff cutline by the regulation-wins tiebreaker, starting this one with a 19-12-6 record that sounds a lot better than winning 19 of 37 games.

The record, though, hadn’t fooled head coach Gerard Gallant.

“It’s a work in progress but I like our pieces. We’re going to be a good hockey team, but we’ve got to be more consistent, like I’ve said a number of times,” Gallant said. “It’s not a whole lot different from a lot of teams in our position. You look at the standings and it’s pretty tight. We can be better, we know that and we think we will be better.”

Gallant unfurled a unique line combination featuring Filip Chytil between the reinstated Alexis Lafreniere and Jimmy Vesey for this one. The tinkering never seems to stop. Then again, the Rangers are not alone.

“I was talking to my buddy Jon Cooper the other night,” Gallant said, alluding to Tampa Bay’s head coach. “They’re a pretty good team, they went to the finals three years in a row and he said, ‘I keep juggling my lineup,’ and I said, ‘Well, now that you mention that, you don’t read the New York papers?’

“But it’s true, you keep trying to find the right mix certain nights and that’s the way it goes. It’s never going to be perfect but you work hard and compete hard and find ways to win the games you can.”

This wasn’t perfect. But this was one the Rangers not only should have won and could have won, but did.

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