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Zibanejad saves Rangers in OT thriller over Islanders

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 25: Mika Zibanejad #93 of the New York Rangers celebrates his game winning overtime goal against the New York Islanders at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on February 25, 2020 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Mika Zibanejad scored the game-winning goal 28 seconds into overtime to lift the Rangers to a 4-3 victory on Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum — spoiling the Islanders’ frantic comeback on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s eventful debut.

Goals from Artemi Panarin, Greg McKegg, and Brett Howden saw the Rangers hold a 3-1 lead with six minutes left in the third period when the Islanders reeled off two goals whilst three men down and overcoming a disallowed tally moments earlier to send the game to an extra period.

“Obviously we don’t want to lose a 3-1 lead and give them a point like that,” Zibanejad said. “But we’ll take the two and keep going.”

Jordan Eberle brought the Islanders within one with 5:37 remaining before Brock Nelson deflected home the equalizer with 18 seconds to go.

“We just tried to get the possession and get guys down underneath for some rebounds and chances,” Nelson said of his equalizer. “It was a great shot by [Devon Toews] that went right off the defender and I was just able to just put it in the net.”

It salvaged a point on Pageau’s first appearance with the Islanders where he endeared himself to Islanders fans by scoring a goal and recording a fight while standing up for Michael Dal Colle after he was crunched by Jacob Trouba in the third.

“You see how he changes our team in a lot of ways. You saw how he stepped up,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “He fits right into our hockey team… He’s going to be impactful for us.”

His acquisition seemed to jumpstart the Islanders, who came bounding out of the gates to start things off, unleashing 15 shots in the first period on Alexandar Georgiev, who made 42 saves on the night.

But it was the Rangers who proved more opportunistic as a rare chance fell to the right guy to put the Blueshirts in front with 2:58 left in the first.

Panarin continued to haunt the Islanders — the team he spurned in free agency to join the Rangers — when he slotted a one-timer under Semyon Varlamov for his 32nd goal of the season.

In three games against the Islanders this year, he posted three goals and five assists (eight points), including the helper on Zibanejad’s game-winner in overtime.

“We had it between the ears and between the legs tonight,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said of his team’s fortitude.

The Blueshirts nabbed a second 7:48 into the second when a shot from the point by Brendan Lemieux was deflected by McKegg past Varlamov to double the Rangers’ advantage.

The Islanders’ continued barrage finally found paydirt with a little bit of luck as Pageau scored his first goal as an Islander with 2:56 left in the second.

A slapshot by Ryan Pulock missed over Georgiev’s net, deflected off the back glass and fell to the newest Islander, who had a simple tap-in while the Rangers were looking for the puck.

Pageau’s night would end early after racking up 17 minutes’ worth of penalties by instigating a fight with Trouba, who seconds earlier leveled Dal Colle with an open-ice hit in the Rangers zone.

Both Dal Colle and Pageau would head to the locker room for the remainder of regulation, joining veteran defenseman Andy Greene, who injured his neck during the first period.

Howden put the Rangers up two with a tip-in off a Brendan Smith wrister with 10:26 to go.

The Islanders looked to pull one back less than three minutes later when Devon Toews’ wrister beat Georgiev, but the goal was waved off as the officials deemed Anders Lee interfered with the Rangers’ netminder.

The contact was minimal, prompting the Islanders to challenge, but the call stood to give the Rangers a power play.

“I thought we were winning that challenge for sure,” Trotz said. “I thought Georgiev engaged with Lee.”

But the Islanders dug deep to equalize, but a turnover in overtime led to a Panarin semi-breakaway.

While he was caught by a pair of Islanders defenders, he managed to slide the puck to a wide-open Zibanejad, who blasted a slapper past Varlamov for the winner.

“I feel like it’s glued to his stick,” Zibanejad said. “When he doesn’t want to give it up, he doesn’t. The puck popped out and I just felt like shooting.”

The win brings the Rangers a point closer to the Islanders with their deficit down to just five points now.

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