Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin is congratulated by teammates after...

Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin is congratulated by teammates after his goal against the Capitals during Game 1 of their NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Matt Rempe dominated the attention of fans and newspaper headline writers during and after the Rangers’ victory over the Capitals on Sunday.

But a bit lost in all the excitement was a guy whose goal 33 seconds after Rempe’s would be the deciding one in the Game 1 victory of the first-round playoff series.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him: Artemi Panarin.

When I joked with Rempe before Tuesday night's 4-3 victory in Game 2 that all he needs now is the same skill set as Panarin to maintain their goal-scoring tandem, he said, “Me and him are pretty similar players, eh?”

That was a joke, too.

Rempe knows his rugged, rough-around-the-edges style is the opposite of Panarin’s — and that the Rangers’ path to a Stanley Cup figures to include far more Panarin goals than Rempe goals.

That is the plan, anyway. There is no one on the roster with a skill set quite like Panarin, who ranks among the 10 or so best players in the world.

But there is even more scrutiny on him in this year’s playoffs than normal because of the way he struggled in the Rangers’ first-round loss to the Devils last year.

Fixing that outcome has been a mission for Panarin since he began the season having shorn his famous curly locks, a new look that foretold a new look as a player, too.

He scored 49 goals in the regular season. Then he started the playoffs with that goal against the Capitals, along with a game-high seven shots.

Jimmy Vesey said before Game 2 that he is expecting to keep seeing peak Panarin this spring.

“For sure,” he said. “It’s the time of the year for it. I don’t think anyone was happy with how we went out last year.

“But ever since we got to training camp this fall, I think he’s definitely had kind of a different look in his eye, and he just went out and attacked this season and had a historic season in Rangers history.

“So if he’s going to keep up that compete and that production for the team I think it makes us really dangerous.”

The line of Panarin, Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere has been a consistent goal-producer all season.

“I don’t think there’s any difference in his mindset [in the playoffs],” Trocheck said of Panarin. “His mindset from Day One has been the same.

“I’ve said it multiple times throughout the year: He’s one of those guys that’s just really focused, and he wants to be the best. His mindset every game, whether it’s regular season or the playoffs, is the same.”

Still, compared to last season, Panarin clearly has focused more on shooting.

His 49 regular-season goals were 17 more than in any of his previous eight NHL seasons and 20 more than last season. His assists total grew more modestly, from 63 to 71.

“What I think is impressive is how much he scored, for a guy that’s mostly been a pass-first guy his whole career,” Vesey said. “To kind of flip the switch and become almost a 50-goal scorer is really impressive.

“There are a lot of guys that are really good at either scoring or passing. For him to just decide that he’s going to be a 49-goal scorer is really impressive, and his consistency has been next level, too.”

Panarin said last week that shooting has been more of an emphasis for him.

“I started in the beginning shooting, it started working, and then I just keep shooting,” he said. “That simple.”

Against the Devils last season, Panarin had two assists in Game 1, then nothing on the scoresheet thereafter.

No one expects a similar trail off this time, least of all Rempe, who said part of the fun of being a rookie in the playoffs is getting a front-row seat to marvel at his more experienced, more skillful teammates, notably including Panarin.

“Sometimes I’ll be on the bench watching what they do,” Rempe said, “and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, how did he do that? Unbelievable play.’ ”

Panarin always has been known for that sort of thing. This time, he wants to be known for that sort of thing straight through mid-June.


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