Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin against the Carolina Hurricanes in...

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Artemi Panarin is a star more appreciated than beloved, an elite talent who is fun to watch but still is searching for his signature achievement as a Ranger.

Fans cheer loudest during pregame introductions for Mika Zibanejad. They chant the first name of Igor Shesterkin.

Chris Kreider? Heck, he is part of the family, around so long there are fans old enough to vote who might not recall a world in which he did not play for the Rangers.

But Panarin can do things no one else on the team, and few in the world, can do.

And now it is time, once and for all, to see the “Breadman” rise.

Panarin had six goals and 10 assists in the Rangers’ run to the conference finals two seasons ago, but after a lackluster first-round playoff series against the Devils last year he made 2023-24 a mission.

He cut his trademark curly locks, then he cut a path through the NHL, with career highs for goals (49) and points (120) in the regular season.

He began the playoffs with four goals, all game-winners, in the Rangers’ 7-0 start, none prettier than in Game 3 against the Hurricanes.

His between-the-legs deflection of a pass from Vincent Trocheck beat Carolina in overtime and gave the Rangers a 3-0 series lead.

Then came Games 4 and 5, and with them alarming developments.

Panarin made some defensive mistakes in Game 4, a 4-3 Rangers loss, then added to it in Game 5 on Monday night.

On the goal that put the Hurricanes ahead to stay, he had a head start on Evgeny Kuznetsov but allowed himself to be beaten down the ice, which in turn allowed Kuznetsov to put home a rebound to make it 2-1.

On offense, which is Bread’s butter, he managed one shot on goal in Game 4 and one in Game 5. His plus-minus for those two games was minus-5.

Meanwhile, what had been a red-hot first power-play unit, featuring Panarin, has gone cold, with no goals in the past three games.

The Rangers are famously vulnerable five-on-five, so power-play success is a must.

This is not all on Panarin, surely. Part of the Rangers’ strength is the depth of their star power, which allows them not to rely on any one player.

But this is the business Panarin has chosen — being a big name in Big Town and thus being called on to deliver in big moments.

Neither team practiced on Tuesday, but the coaches spoke to reporters, so I gave both a try on the topic of how Carolina has bottled up Panarin of late.

“I haven’t seen anything in particular,” the Rangers’ Peter Laviolette said when asked whether he has detected something specific that the Hurricanes have done.

Of course, if he had, he would not be telling us about it.

Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes coach, said, “I don't really know what to tell you there. There are unique players in the game, and he's one of them, that they can be nonexistent and then next thing you know, they end the game for you. They have that unique ability.

“Every time he's on the ice, you notice him and he's a threat, as far as I'm concerned. You feel it. I think we've maybe done a nice job just having that awareness, like we know when he's on the ice you better be tight, and I think that's maybe part of the success we've had.

“But like I said, you saw it in the one game, you give him a couple feet and it goes in your net. So that's what that kind of player can do for you.”

Game 6 in Raleigh on Thursday night is Panarin’s next big opportunity.

If he comes through, the next cheers he hears figure to be loud ones for Game 1 of the conference finals at Madison Square Garden.

If he does not, the Garden buzz could be considerably more nervous for Game 7 of the current series on Saturday.


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