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

Rangers’ Chris Kreider out indefinitely after blood clot diagnosis

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The New York Rangers announced on Thursday that forward Chris Kreider is out indefinitely after he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm. He’s expected to miss 6-8 weeks, according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post.

Kreider left Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals in the first period after he began feeling something in his right arm. He was sent to a local hospital to be evaluated and the symptoms persisted.

The 26-year-old Kreider, who has 11 goals and 22 points in 37 games, joins a growing list of NHL players who have dealt with blood clots over the last few seasons. Steven Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Kimmo Timonen and Pascal Dupuis are just a few names who have seen their seasons and careers sidelined by the diagnosis.

The Rangers will travel to Detroit for Friday night’s game against the Red Wings before returning home for Monday’s Winter Classic at CitiField against the Buffalo Sabres.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

New York Rangers ’15-16 Outlook

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If you’re fascinated by athletes chasing big numbers in contract years, then the New York Rangers have been a go-to source of entertainment in recent years.

It’s difficult (if not nebulous) to try to quantify the impact of “greed is good,” but the Rangers are a hungry team with plenty of motivation in 2015-16. That’s what happens when you mortgage bits of your future via trades and employ some players chasing their next checks.

You never really know how wide open a Stanley Cup window might be.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault saw that in action in Vancouver, as the franchise declined from a huge contender to a bubble team in little time.

We’ve asked more than once if Henrik Lundqist’s elite days are numbered. It’s also worth noting that at 31, Rick Nash is in the middle of that age in which snipers see a slide in production.

The contract year situations aren’t of “uh oh, we better re-sign Henrik Lundqvist/our current captain/Derek Stepan” enormity, but they’re still intriguing.

On defense, you have veteran Keith Yandle and fading graybeard (literally) Dan Boyle. Antti Raanta also enters a pivotal year as an NHL backup.

The forward group might be the most intriguing.

Just look at the pending RFAs alone: Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T Miller and Emerson Etem. There’s some fascinating potential for all four of those players.

Even with Boyle’s $4.5 million cap hit set to expire, salary cap gymnastic may be required once again in the summer of 2016.

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Paying players after strong years – and learning to let some of the less essential ones go – has been a pretty rewarding process for the Rangers, even if there’s been the occasional miss (see: Anton Stralman).

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.

Get to know a draft pick — Paul Bittner

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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called Friday in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from former Minnesota Wild scout Mark Seidel, who currently serves as the president of North American Central Scouting.

Paul Bittner (LW)

Height: 6’4 Weight: 204 Shoots: Left

Team: Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Country: USA

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 26 among North American skaters

What kind of player is he?

A big one.

One of the largest forwards available at this year’s draft, Bittner — projected to play at 220 pounds at the NHL level — utilized his frame and physicality to score 34 goals in 66 games with the Winterhawks this season. While some of that production came from playing on a stacked line featuring league MVP Oliver Bjorkstrand and Winnipeg prospect Nic Petan, Bittner gave the trio some much-needed bulk, routinely using his size to 1) make space for Bjorkstrand/Petan, and 2) create scoring chances by fending off opponents and driving hard to the net.

“I see Paul as a power forward,” Portland head coach Jamie Kompon said, per the Grand Forks Herald. “He’s a very good skater for a big man. He has a long reach. He has a terrific shot. He uses his body and size very well.

“I see him in that power forward role as a top-six player.”

Seidel says:

“Bittner is another big power forward that skates exceptionally well and has above-average offensive skills. He’s coming out of the ‘prospect factory’ that is WHL Portland, and his game has evolved over the past two years.

“We’d still like to see him become a little more aggressive and committed defensively, but a kid with his size and skating ability will be very enticing as teams gather for the draft on June 26. The game has become very fast, and Bittner’s ability to add offense and get in on the forecheck make him a quality prospect.”

NHL comparable: Chris Kreider

For more 2015 NHL Draft profiles, click here.