Zibanejad forces OT, notches game winner as Rangers top Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins had this one right where they wanted it.

A 2-0 lead heading into the third period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, 20 minutes away from taking sole possession of first place in the volatile Metropolitan Division.

But the Rangers, who could only hope to play the role of spoiler on during Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN, did exactly that after two third-period comebacks in a 4-3 overtime win.

For the Penguins, the point was enough to move them into a tie with the Washington Capitals for first place, with Alex Ovechkin and Co. holding a game in-hand over their Metro rivals. But the Penguins won’t be looking at the silver linings after giving up 2-0 and 3-2 leads respectively in the final frame.

Pittsburgh was even gifted a glorious opportunity to break a 3-3 with 10 seconds left.

The Rangers started Alexandar Georgiev in goal, and the veteran of five NHL games nudged the net off its moorings with Pittsburgh pressing and time running down in the third. Given that it was in the final two minutes of the game, the Penguins were awarded a penalty shot.

Step up Evgeni Malkin, who was looking for No. 40 for the third time in his career. Georgiev, with an opportunity to make amends for his transgression, stuck with Malkin as he dangled in close, ultimately turning aside the attempt to force overtime.

Bryan Rust, who missed the past two games with a concussion, returned in style to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead after a scoreless first period. Riley Sheahan doubled the lead under a minute later.

Casey DeSmith wasn’t tested much during the first two periods but turned aside all 17 shots he faced through 40 minutes.

The Rangers looked like a different team in the third period. Sustained pressure forced DeSmith to make some timely saves, but the walls eventually gave way.

Chris Kreider notched his 13th followed by Jesper Fast‘s 11th to tie the game with just over five minutes to go.

Former Ranger Carl Hagelin scored just over a minute later to restore the lead for the Penguins, but the Rangers got a late power play opportunity and cashed in, with Kreider making a slick cross-ice feed to Mika Zibanejad.

And it would be Zibanejad who would have the final say in the contest, scoring at the 2:53 mark in overtime to cap off quite the comeback for the Rangers.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s New York Rangers Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The New York Rangers.

The New York Rangers earned their third Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history with a 53-22-7 record last season.

New York then eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games of the first round and edged the Washington Capitals in seven games in the conference semifinals. However, Tampa Bay cut New York’s bid for a second straight Stanley Cup Final appearance short defeating the Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final.

Rick Nash led the way offensively for the Rangers scoring a career-high 42 goals and 69 points in 79 games. Center Derick Brassard also had a career year notching a personal best for goals (19) and points (60).

In what was his final NHL season, Martin St. Louis reached the 20-goal plateau for the 10th time in his career. The 40-year-old announced his retirement in July.

In goal, Henrik Lundqvist went 30-13-3 while posting a 2.25 G.A.A. and a .922 save percentage in 46 appearances. Despite missing 25 games due to a vascular injury, the 33-year-old finished fifth in Vezina Trophy voting.

Cam Talbot took over in Lundqvist’s absence. The 28-year-old finished the season with a 21-9-4 record to go along with a 2.21 G.A.A. and a .926 save percentage.

Off-season recap

It was a busy off-season for the Rangers.

After 15 years as the general manager of the Rangers, Glen Sather stepped down in July and handed the duties to Jeff Gorton.

On the ice, the Rangers dealt Talbot to the Edmonton Oilers and filled his spot with Antti Raanta.

New York also acquired Emerson Etem from the Ducks for Carl Hagelin on the second day of the NHL Draft.

Earlier this month the Rangers added depth at center inking free agent Jarret Stoll to a one-year deal.

The Rangers also took care of their own.

Restricted free agents J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast got new deals and Derek Stepan avoided arbitration signing a new six-year $39 million contract.

James Sheppard, who scored two goals and registered nine penalty minutes in 14 games after being acquired from the San Jose Sharks, remains unsigned.

Several Rangers are still recovering from injuries suffered last season.

Brassard had wrist surgery in late June and was expected to require four-to-six weeks of recovery time. Captain Ryan McDonagh, who led all Rangers’ blue liners with 33 points in 71 games last season, is still recovering from a broken foot suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Mats Zuccarello has been cleared to resume skating and have contact after taking a shot to the head from McDonagh in Game 5 of the Rangers’ first round series against the Penguins.

Mackenzie Skapski is still recovering from off-season hip surgery.

RFAs out of the way: Rangers sign Fast, Miller

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The New York Rangers crossed two more items off their to-do list on Wednesday, signing RFAs J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast.

The team only officially acknowledged that the two deals are done, but the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that Fast’s contract is for two years, $1.9 million (a cap hit of $950K per season) while Miller accepted a qualifying offer of about $874K.

It sounds like Miller might be eyeing the future in compromising his 2015-16 payday:

Of course, there’s still the elephant in the room in Derek Stepan’s negotiations, but the Rangers’ other worries are largely taken care of. Taking those two contracts into consideration, that leaves New York with about $6 million in cap space for Stepan; Brooks reported that $6.5 million would just be a starting point, so there could still be some work to do there.

The Rangers have developed a pattern of saving with RFAs, for the most part, and these two deals stick with that trend.

Fast, 23, generated modest point totals (14 in 58 regular season games, six points in 19 postseason contests), yet he showed flashes of brilliance here and there. Miller, 22, managed slightly better totals and could very well blossom in the near future.

It’s been a busy day with the signing of Dylan McIlrath also in mind, but the team’s executives can’t quite take a vacation just yet.

Report: Rangers haven’t submitted opening proposal to Stepan yet

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It’s anyone’s guess if the New York Rangers will stop Derek Stepan from reaching salary arbitration, but as of this moment, it doesn’t sound like much is happening yet.

The New York Post’s Larry Brooks reports that “the parties haven’t quite even reached the preliminary stages of negotiating” as a potential arbitration hearing looms on July 27. Going further, the Rangers haven’t even offered an opening proposal for a long-term deal, according to Brooks.

Yikes, right?

OK, Rangers fans, compose yourselves.

Yes, it seems a little dicey that the two sides reportedly haven’t done much, if anything. Stepan, 25, has a strong argument for a hearty deal – Brooks believes that a contract carrying a $6.5 million cap hit would merely get the ball rolling – but the Rangers hold some leverage in his RFA status.

General Fanager places the Rangers’ cap space at about $10.2 million at the moment, yet the Rangers have other situations to address with RFAs, as J.T. Miller, Emerson Etem and Jesper Fast all need new contracts. There are also some situations to consider for 2016-17, as Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider rank among the most noteworthy players currently on expiring deals.

Even with that tight squeeze, note that a lot can happen in two weeks, and deals often get hammered out within breathing distance of these hearings.

The outlook just doesn’t seem particularly rosy right now, at least if this report is accurate.

Related: Ryan O’Reilly’s big deal might not be helping matters.

Columnist: O’Reilly deal could be costly for Rangers with Stepan

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Derek Stepan might lack a little in the way of negotiating power as a restricted free agent, but the New York Post’s Larry Brooks believes that he recently received a big boost in leverage.

In Brooks’ mind, the big seven-year, $52 million deal ($7.5 million cap hit) Ryan O’Reilly signed with the Buffalo Sabres will leave the New York Rangers in a “cap vise” thanks to its comparables regarding Stepan:

A number than starts with a “7” for Stepan is all but untenable for the Rangers as they are constructed. An award that’s closer to starting with an “8” than a “7” would place the ’15-16 Blueshirts’ roster in a cap vise. Beyond that, an arbitration award almost certainly starts the clock ticking on Stepan’s Broadway expiration date two years hence.

As Brooks notes, it’s plausible that Stepan, 25, may indeed file for salary arbitration by today’s deadline.

Even if this doomsday scenario gets downgraded to things being really tight, Brooks has a point about possible domino effects for the Rangers. General Fanager pegs the Rangers’ cap space at about $10.2 million, so anything in the $7 million range would start to make things uncomfortable, especially since New York still has other RFAs to consider in J.T. Miller, Emerson Etem and Jesper Fast.

Could that force the team’s hand in trading someone like Keith Yandle? Might the Rangers need to make more like the Chicago Blackhawks and move Stepan’s rights instead?

Yes, this speculation could turn out to be excessive worrying, especially if Stepan decided to take a slight “hometown discount” to stay on a contending team/help keep his team in contention.

Even so, if Stepan’s reps use O’Reilly’s extension as a measuring stick, the Rangers might indeed be sweating it.