Artemi Panarin chose the route of modesty after becoming just the fifth Rangers player in franchise history to score an overtime goal in a Game 7 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden to complete the New York Rangers’ comeback and defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3.
“Let’s say yeah [this was the biggest goal of my career],” Panarin said through a sheepish grin (and a translator).
“It’s hard to say,” he continued. “I haven’t scored that many goals so I say all of them are pretty big.”
The 30-year-old is no goal-scoring slouch. He has 187 career regular-season goals and has eclipsed the 30-goal mark three times.
But after being held goalless in Games 4, 5, and 6 — and pointless in Game 6 — frustrations started to boil over for the “Breadman,” whose game in regulation featured a spinning slash of Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson that went uncalled before a high-sticking penalty on Kris Letang was assessed 8:08 into the third period.
And that was with the Rangers trailing 3-2 following a stunning Evan Rodrigues goal in the second.
“The ice wasn’t great,” Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. “I think they had a concert here or something last night and the puck was bouncing and that affects his game more than other guys. People get frustrated at times. I think you saw a little bit of that.
But as they had done all season, the Blueshirts rallied back with a goal from Mika Zibanejad with 6:45 left in the third — and they needed one more hero.
“[Panarin is] the guy when we went into overtime,” Gallant began, “I said to myself ‘I know he’s going to score if we score. If we get the winning goal, it’s going to be him.”
And when they needed him most, the Breadman delivered.
Manning the right point on a power play drawn by an aggressive K’Andre Miller drive to the net, Panarin found himself with acres of space above the face-off circle after playing catch with Zibanejad.
“They’ve been letting me shoot since the first game,” Panarin, who scored two goals earlier in the series, explained. “That’s my bad, I haven’t been really making those shots.”
This time, he didn’t miss. Taking four strides to the top of the circle, he sent a pinpoint wrist shot that just snuck over the glove of Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry.
And so the Garden began to quake.
“Just a black picture,” is what Panarin claimed he saw after that puck went in. “Maybe I should start listening to everybody’s advice and actually get out there and take those shots.”
He’ll have an opportunity to make good on that concept when the Rangers meet the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference semifinals beginning on Wednesday night in Raleigh.