Georgiev propels Rangers to huge victories over powerhouses

Not much has gone the New York Rangers’ way this season, as long-term injuries, underachieving players and an inability to meet their perennial high expectations may have cost them a chance to compete in the postseason for an eighth consecutive spring.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. After the trade period ended, the season was still far from over and that gave the Rangers enough time to develop and evaluate their new acquisitions and young players who have meshed into the lineup well. After a sweep of Western Canada, the Rangers lost all three games the following week, overwhelmed by some serious competition. The team faced a similar situation during the week of March 13, facing more tough competition.

The Rangers began their week with a home game against the playoff hopeful Carolina Hurricanes on March 13. This was another chance for New York to play the role of spoiler, and the team certainly did that with numerous contributions.

Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello opened the scoring just over nine minutes into the first period when he put a Neal Pionk miss into the goal past Hurricanes goaltender Scott Darling. The Hurricanes tied the game at 1-1 less than six minutes later, when Teuvo Teräväinen took a soft pass from Sebastian Aho on a breakaway and beat Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev through the five-hole. The first period ended with the tie, but the Rangers regained the lead less than two minutes into the second period.

After Pavel Buchnevich won an offensive zone faceoff, he immediately pushed the puck forward and slid it to Jimmy Vesey, who fired a wristshot past Darling. However, Carolina was able to tie the game once again six minutes later, when former Rangers right wing Lee Stempniak put home a rebound off a Jeff Skinner miss.

The Rangers once again broke the tie, this time on a power play. Just six seconds into the power play, Mika Zibanejad won the faceoff back to Buchnevich, who immediately fired a slapshot toward the net. The puck was deflected by Vladislav Namestnikov in the slot and into the back of the net.

The second period ended with the Rangers leading 3-2, but the Hurricanes would not go away. In the third period Carolina found yet another way to tie the game. Nearly eight and a half minutes into the period on a power play, the Hurricanes’ Victor Rask got the puck just inside the blue line and blasted a slapshot past Georgiev to tie the game at 3-3.

The Rangers would not be fazed, and with seven minutes and 45 seconds remaining on the clock, they took their fourth one-goal lead of the game. After Buchnevich made an excellent play in the neutral zone to find Vesey, Vesey sped into the Hurricanes’ zone and fired the puck from a tough angle. The shot beat Darling top-shelf for Vesey’s second tally of the game.

Continuing his strong game, Georgiev made big save after big save. It paid off as the Rangers got two empty-netters to ice the game. With just over two and a half minutes remaining, Zuccarello got the puck at the Rangers’ blue line and launched a shot into a gaping Hurricanes’ net to give the Rangers a 5-3 lead. It was Zuccarello’s 100th career NHL goal.

With 24 seconds remaining in the game, Vesey added to the scoring barrage with an empty-netter to complete his first career NHL hat trick. The game ended with the Rangers emerging victorious by a final score of 6-3. Vesey scored a hat trick, Zuccarello scored two goals, Buchnevich and Zibanejad each tallied three assists and Georgiev made 41 saves.

Two days later, on March 15, the Rangers faced off against their division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Georgiev got another start in-goal and was tested early. He made several big saves in the first period, stopping breakaways, screened shots and other quality scoring chances. Neither team scored in the first period, but the Penguins had a 14-7 shot advantage. The second period was a different story. The Penguins opened the period by scoring twice in a 55-second span. Bryan Rust scored the first goal at one minute and 53 seconds, connecting on a one-timer from the slot. Riley Sheahan scored at two minutes and 48 seconds, deflecting a Kris Letang shot from the right point. The Rangers had trouble generating shots and quality chances, while Georgiev had to continue making difficult saves to keep his team in the game. The second period ended with the Penguins leading 2-0 and outshooting the Rangers 27-16.

The Rangers needed something, or someone, to wake them up in the third period. That someone proved to be Chris Kreider.

On a Rangers’ power play less than nine minutes into the period, Kreider positioned himself in front of the net to screen Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith.

Buchnevich took a quick shot that was stopped by DeSmith, but Kreider put in the rebound to slice the lead in half. With five and a half minutes remaining, Kreider found Marc Staal cutting into the Penguins’ zone. Staal threw the puck on goal and Jesper Fast deflected it over DeSmith’s glove and into the back of the net to tie the game at 2-2.

Unfortunately, the Penguins had an answer to the Rangers’ success. Just one minute and 13 seconds later, former Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin scored on a wrap-around play. The puck slid through Georgiev’s legs and the Penguins took a 3-2 lead. But the Rangers were persistent and immediately took advantage of a bad penalty by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel. Kreider blazed down the ice and delivered a perfect pass to a trailing Zibanejad, who tucked the puck past DeSmith to tie the game at 3-3.

With just 10.7 seconds to go, Georgiev appeared to dislodge the net off its pegs after the Penguins made a play behind it. Penguins center Evgeni Malkin had the puck when the whistle blew, and by rule, he was awarded a penalty shot. Georgiev stopped Malkin on the penalty shot with his right pad, however, and sent the game into overtime.

In that overtime, the Penguins had several scoring opportunities, including a screaming backhander by Sidney Crosby. But Georgiev stopped every one of them and that led to some magic down at the other end. Close to three minutes of the overtime, Kreider entered the Penguins’ zone and found Zibanejad on his right side. Zibanejad skated his way toward the right post and snuck the puck into the net off DeSmith’s right pad for his second goal of the game.

The Rangers, who looked like they had very little chances to win with what transpired late in the game, found a way to scrap out a huge 4-3 overtime victory over the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Zibanejad’s game-winning goal was the 100th goal of the player’s NHL career. Kreider had himself a masterful performance, registering one goal and three assists; Pionk had three assists. Georgiev made 37 saves and was nothing short of sensational.

The Rangers finished off their week with a road matchup, facing the St. Louis Blues on March 18.

The Blues, who are in the playoff hunt, definitely looked like the hungrier team in the first period, as they outshot the Rangers by a staggering 16-2 margin. With just over four minutes remaining in the period, the Blues opened the scoring, when Alex Pietrangelo got the puck in the high slot and fired a wristshot into the back of the net.

The Rangers were very fortunate that Pietrangelo's goal was their lone folly in that period, but they had to start generating more offensive chances.

Just 42 seconds into the second period, Kreider used his speed to get the puck through the neutral zone right on the stick of Fast, who then took a shot from the right end boards that Zibanejad deflected behind Blues goaltender Jake Allen to tie the game at 1-1. The Blues, however, quickly regained the lead, when defenseman Nikita Soshnikov received the puck in the Rangers' zone off a turnover and blasted a shot right past Georgiev just one minute and 42 seconds after Zibanejad’s equalizer.

The Rangers were not fazed and with less than eight minutes remaining in the period, they tied the game once again. After missing several attempts, Zuccarello lifted the puck over Allen's glove and into the back of the net.

A few minutes later, the Rangers were on the power play and delivered one of the best goals of the season. Buchnevich found Kreider at the right side of the net and Kreider gave a gorgeous behind-the-back feed to Zibanejad in front. Zibanejad beat Allen glove-side for his second goal of the game to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead.

The teams entered the third period with that same score, but the Blues found a way to even things up again.

Just over five minutes into the frame, the Blues were on a man advantage of their own, and got more heroics from their captain. Pietrangelo had the puck at the Rangers' blue line, waited for a screen to form in front of Georgiev and launched a screaming slapshot past the helpless netminder to tie the game at 3-3. The score would remain level until the end of regulation, which meant overtime.

In that overtime, the Blues needed just one minute and two seconds to end the game, as Brayden Schenn got the puck in the neutral zone, powered his way around Rangers defenseman John Gilmour and beat Georgiev with a quick shot blocker-side.

The Rangers ultimately fell short in this contest 4-3, but earned a hard-fought point nevertheless. The team is now 5-2-2 since the Feb. 26 trade deadline.