Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko propel Rangers to slump-busting win

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It don’t come easy, as Mr. Richard Starkey once observed about hockey teams that are enduring goal-scoring famines, and he was sure right about that.

But there is no column in the standings representing [corporate name deleted] degree of difficulty. Every victory looks just as beautiful as the next, even if achieved in a teeth-pulling contest.

So, the Rangers embraced their 3-2 shootout triumph in Philadelphia on Thursday night that stanched a losing streak, which had grown to four games, albeit with one losers’ point tossed in the mix.

True enough, they were forced to the max by a team that hadn’t played in 11 days and went without six regulars on the COVID-protocol list, but the point is that the Blueshirts persevered and came out on the other side with a pair of points essential to the club’s mental health, even if the Flyers knotted the contest with just 1:14 remaining in regulation with the extra attacker. The Rangers were not about to quibble.

“I just think that we didn’t break,” said Brendan Smith, who had scored the go-ahead 2-1 goal from the goalmouth at 8:21 of the third. “With a lot of younger teams, you’ll see they break after a team gets that tying goal, but it was good resilience, it was a good effort to respond and not get down on ourselves.

“We needed that. We really needed that. We’ve just got to keep pulling on the same chain.”

Artemi Panarin scores a shootout goal on Carter Hart during the Rangers' 3-2 win over the Flyers.
Artemi Panarin scores a shootout goal on Carter Hart during the Rangers’ 3-2 win over the Flyers.
AP

Alexandar Georgiev did not face a high volume of shots, in fact only 22 on the night, but was exceptionally sharp in breaking his own four-game losing streak (0-2-2) while turning aside a half-dozen golden opportunities. Artemi Panarin, who had missed the previous two games with an upper-body issue, put on a tour de force, launching a total of 16 attempts, eight on net, before becoming the decider in the shootout in which Kaapo Kakko converted out of the leadoff spot.

The power play even scored a goal, its first since — checking notes here — Doug Harvey was on the point and Camille Henry was setting up at the goalmouth for tip-ins. Well, wait, no, it hadn’t quite been six decades, only six games, since Feb.1. Colin Blackwell’s high-slot redirect beat Carter Hart at 3:24 of the second period to negate the Flyers’ opening score off a goalmouth scramble just 59 seconds into the contest.

Check out the goal-scorers again: Smith and Blackwell. The Blueshirts have scored six goals in their past five games. Two from Blackwell, one from Smith, one from Kevin Rooney, one from Julien Gauthier (scratched Thursday) and one from Pavel Buchnevich. That does not represent a blueprint for Rangers success. Still, the need to extrapolate is diminished by the importance of this victory that, at least temporarily, revived good feelings.

“I’m very proud,” coach David Quinn said. “This has been a tough go for us. Losing can wear on you. I don’t care … how pretty it looked or what. I don’t care how it came to fruition, but we needed two points and we got two points and that’s all that mattered.”

We’ve told you the Flyers were a depleted club. The fact is, the Rangers had a defense that included guys who were sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth on the depth chart when the season commenced: Smith, Jack Johnson, Anthony Bitetto and Libor Hajek. All were needed in the absences of K’Andre Miller (sidelined for a second straight game with an upper-body issue), Jacob Trouba (missing his first with the broken thumb he sustained blocking a shot on Tuesday) and Tony DeAngelo (no explanation necessary).

Smith took umbrage when it was suggested the Rangers had put out a “makeshift defense,” and he probably had every right. But still, it was Adam Fox (a career-high 30:17 of ice) and Ryan Lindgren (23:39) on top, with Johnson-Smith and Bitetto-Hajek below.

“So what happens is, when guys get a chance to get in there you want to prove yourself and stay in the lineup. It’s been that way for years and years and years,” Smith said. “I know you said, ‘Makeshift,’ but everybody is trying to get better and striving to get that job and keep that job.

“For us it wasn’t really like trying to keep it simple. We want to play a simpler game and get pucks to the net and help out our forwards. I don’t like the whole makeshift thing, but I like how we responded. I thought we played well as a D-corps.”

Smith cited co-workers Johnson, Bitetto and Hajek for their strong play before referring to Fox and Lindgren as Batman and Robin.

Holy Makeshift, the Rangers won a game. It may not have been pretty, and it did not come easy, but they sure did earn it.

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