The official playoff motto was emblazoned on T-shirts, hats, towels and anything else one could buy, wave and/or wear at Madison Square Garden and beyond:
“No Quit in New York.”
That has been true for a Rangers team whose trademark all season has been achieving comeback victories and avoiding long losing streaks.
And it certainly was true in the first playoff round against the Penguins, in which the Rangers lost three of the first four games before back-to-back comebacks from two-goal deficits in Games 5 and 6.
Then came Game 7, and the highest-stakes no-quit performance yet.
The Rangers were on the brink of elimination before Mika Zibanejad tied the score at 3 with a shot from the right circle that beat Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry over his left shoulder with 5:45 left in regulation at the Garden on Sunday night.
Then Artemi Panarin scored a power-play goal 4:46 into overtime, and just like that, the Rangers had a 4-3 victory. They
became the first team in Stanley Cup playoff history to earn three consecutive comeback victories in elimination games within the same series.
Panarin had been having a mediocre series and a tough night, but he got it done when it mattered most, with Brock McGinn in the penalty box for taking down K’Andre Miller on a potential breakaway — a foul so egregious it had to be called, even in overtime.
“That whole ‘no-quit in New York’ thing is pretty true with this group,” Jacob Trouba said when it was over.
Zibanejad and his teammates have answered so many questions about their resilience this season that when he was asked about that, he said with a smile, “I feel like I’ve been repeating myself; everyone’s been repeating themselves.”
In a good way, of course.
Coach Gerard Gallant said nothing changed in the locker room before the overtime, in keeping with his even-keeled approach to this whole big-time hockey thing.
“That’s our team,” said Gallant, who claimed afterward not to know whom the Rangers are playing next. “We compete, we battle and we find ways to win games maybe we shouldn’t have.”
It was that season worth of belief, he said, that kept everyone focused as the clock wound down before Zibanejad’s goal.
“Huge,” he said of that shared experience. “The guys know. We talked about it between the second and third periods: We’re never out of a hockey game.”
Now the Rangers will face — spoiler alert for Gallant — the Carolina Hurricanes in a second-round series in which they will not be favored.
Anything from here out clearly is gravy for these Rangers, but at this point, why settle for getting this far?
You can’t predict hockey, Suzyn, and it would shock no one if the Rangers somehow found a way to win four more games to reach the conference finals for the first time since 2015.
The drama before and early in the game befit a Game 7, the first at the Garden since the Lightning beat the Rangers, 2-0, in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals.
Before the first puck was dropped, there were derisive “Jar-ry, Jar-ry” chants aimed at the Pittsburgh goalie, playing his first game since April 14. He replaced third-stringer Louis Domingue, who gave up a soft goal that decided Game 6.
There were the opposite sort of chants for the Rangers’ goalie: “I-gor, I-gor,” for Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist Igor Shesterkin, who had a strong game.
The biggest drama was the return of Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, whose departure midway through Game 5 coincided with a Rangers comeback that night and whose absence in Game 6 helped the Rangers tie the series.
There were wild momentum swings all night, as there were throughout the series, with the Rangers scoring first, the Penguins scoring twice to take the lead, the Rangers tying it and the Penguins going ahead again.
It appeared the Rangers might have run out of escape routes at last. Then Zibanejad found a route past Jarry to tie it, rocking the Garden and making possible Panarin’s game-winner.
The marketing department got this one right. No quit, it is.
“It sure fits this team, there’s no doubt about that,” Gallant said. “They find a way.”