For the past few weeks, nobody in the NHL is rolling like Mika Zibanejad, and it is no coincidence that the New York Rangers are creeping back in the playoff race following their middling start.
Zibanejad and the Rangers seek their third straight win and hope to inch closer in the postseason race Saturday night when they visit the Buffalo Sabres.
Zibanejad has 12 goals and 28 points this season with a majority of those coming since March 17. Starting with a six-point second period in a 9-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers, he has nine goals and 17 points, figures that through Thursday are the most in the NHL since that point.
Zibanejad added to his hot streak Thursday when he scored the game-winning goal 4:32 into overtime by one-timing a pass from Artemi Panarin. Zibanejad’s latest goal capped a night when he won 17 faceoffs and played a season-high 25:22.
“We’re in a position where it’s all about winning, we want to win hockey games and that’s kind of what where we’re at,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
Before Zibanejad’s hot streak began, the Rangers were off to a mediocre 11-12-4 start, and since it started, they are 6-3-0 in their past nine games to get within three points of the Boston Bruins for the final playoff spot in the East Division.
Zibanejad is not the only Ranger on a significant hot streak. Ryan Strome set up a goal by Colin Blackwell to extend his points streak to a career-high 11 games. During the streak, he has two goals and 14 assists.
“It wasn’t the cleanest game,” Strome said. “But there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to find a way.”
Panarin also had two assists Thursday and is rolling since returning to the team March 13 following an absence due to personal reasons. Since he returned, Panarin has four goals and 12 assists in his past 11 games, a stretch that has seen the Rangers tally 47 goals.
Buffalo is 1-2-2 this season against the Rangers, and three of those losses are by one goal. The Sabres snapped their 18-game (0-15-3) skid with Wednesday’s 6-1 win over Philadelphia but were unable to win consecutive games for the second time this season.
While Rasmus Asplund scored 2:06 into Thursday’s game, the Sabres were dominated most of the game. Buffalo was outshot 47-23 and 36-11 after the first period, though it managed to tie the game on a goal by Tage Thompson with four seconds left in regulation.
Thursday represented the fourth straight game Buffalo scored first, but the Sabres also allowed a season high in shots on goal. It also was the fourth time they allowed at least 30 shots to the Rangers.
“Fatigue is a factor certainly when you play back-to-back and the other team didn’t. I mean, there’s not a way around it,” Sabres interim coach Don Granato said. “But I thought our guys elevated tremendously in the last few minutes to get that goal.”
–Field Level Media