As it has been pretty much from the day he pulled on the Blueshirt, Artemi Panarin was in the middle of everything. That included a goal and a pair of assists through the first two periods of Monday’s Garden match against the Flyers.
It also included a dicey move in overtime that went awry and led directly to Jakub Voracek’s breakaway winner at 3:47 to give Philadelphia a 5-4 victory in a game in which the Blueshirts were half sloppy, half urgent and, well, just not quite able to get it done despite having held leads of 3-2 and 4-3
You want to give the Blueshirts a participation trophy for coming close after learning they’d have to play without Adam Fox, Pavel Buchnevich and Phil Di Giuseppe, who were put on the COVID-19 protocol list? Be our guest. Actually, that’s what the loser’s point represents, no?
The first period was predictably miserable in the wake of the morning skate being canceled for protective reasons, after the Blueshirts had been off on Sunday. But after going down 2-0, the Rangers ratcheted it up and seemed to have the Flyers on the run after Panarin recorded a goal and two assists on his team’s first three goals.
It was as if Panarin had never missed those nine games after taking a leave of absence in the wake of those unsubstantiated assault allegations levied against him. Actually, it was as if it were 2019-20 again, with the Russian Rockette dictating and creating as he went along.
Panarin spoke to the press for the first time since the allegations were made by Andrei Nazarov on Feb. 22 but deferred comment on the issue.
“This is probably not the time to discuss it,” Panarin said through a translator. “I have nothing to hide. I will address everything after the season, but right now, the focus is on the game and not these discussions.”
OK, then let’s move the focus to Panarin’s game, which has not missed a beat. In fact, No. 10 has even seemed revived after missing nine games, driving the play with pace and precision.
“I did not really change my routine. Maybe I rested more,” Panarin said when asked about preparing for his return. “Maybe that’s the lesson that sometimes you should rest, and you’ll play better.”
If Panarin was referring to load management, perhaps that’s what the Blueshirts were taking advantage of in the first period in which Keith Kinkaid was too wobbly himself to prop up the team that had been altogether off the ice since Saturday and looked like it.
But the Blueshirts picked up the pace and played with energy and urgency throughout the second period in gaining a 3-2 lead on goals from Panarin, Colin Blackwell and Julien Gauthier, the latter of whom impressed with the puck but also was in the penalty box three different times for carelessness.
One minute you simply cannot understand how David Quinn could scratch the 23-year-old power winger, as the coach has done seven times. The next minute you don’t understand how Quinn could ever play him, even in a rebuild.
The 3-2 lead was erased at 18:36 of the second when Joel Farabee scored a power-play goal with Gauthier in the box. And after Kevin Rooney gave the Blueshirts a 4-3 edge early in the third, Voracek tied it on a power-play goal at 5:33 with Gauthier in the box on the front end of a high-sticking double minor.
The Rangers played with spirit. They had a stark advantage in territorial play, Mika Zibanejad was assertive, Chris Kreider drove the net, but there were still too many blunders and too many missed opportunities. This was a game the Rangers seemed to have seized. But not quite.
Panarin, who tried to chip Kinkaid’s soft overtime attempted outlet feed past Voracek on the left-wing boards but failed to do so, thus allowing the Flyers’ winger to come in alone on the goaltender, chose to focus on the positive.
“I was really happy that the team, unlike early in the year, did not go down in spirits and came back after giving up a couple of goals,” No. 10 said. “We did not have that quality early in the season. That quality is showing up more and more. It did tonight and I am very happy with the response.”