COLUMBUS, Ohio — As always, Artemi Panarin was the last Ranger off the ice after warmups, and, as expected, there were some boos from the fans who were in their seats early. Panarin had hurt these fans, after all, when he walked away from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the summer to sign as a free agent with the Rangers.
“It didn’t surprise me,’’ Panarin said of the reaction afterward. “I’m OK.’’
Panarin got back at the boo-birds by scoring what turned out to be the winner Thursday in the Rangers’ 3-2 victory over his former team. But honestly, he was not the biggest reason the Rangers won.
In truth, this win belonged to goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who made 45 saves to steal the victory on a night when the Rangers were outshot 47-19 and probably didn’t deserve to win.
“Number 40 over there,’’ Mika Zibanejad said, nodding in the direction of Georgiev, when asked how the Rangers pulled it off. “We didn’t play great today, obviously. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure that out. But, we gutted it out. We got big saves from our goalie. I mean, if you’re gonna look back at this game in a couple of weeks, you’re just going to see the score, you’re going to see the two points we got out of this.’’
“It’s all about ‘Georgie’ tonight, that’s for sure,’’ coach David Quinn said, adding that it was “an understatement’’ to say the goalie saved the team. “I just didn’t think we played at any pace or any physicality. I was really surprised how slow we were tonight. Give [the Blue Jackets] credit: They played with an edge, and they played with the pace . . . Thank God for ‘Georgie.’ ’’
The Rangers improved to 5-1-1 in their last seven and their record is 14-10-3. Twenty-seven games into the season, they are in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Georgiev and the penalty- killing unit were the heroes, as the man-down group killed all five Columbus power plays in the game, including one with 2:10 left in the third period. And Georgiev was his usual even-keeled self afterward, saying that all the shots he faced actually helped him get going.
“Usually, when you get a lot of shots in the beginning, then you kind of are in the rhythm,’’ Georgiev said. “It’s not always like that, but today, it was good. I got some good luck too, [they] hit a couple posts and everything.’’
But Georgiev did his part, too, making a number of difficult saves, including one memorable one on Oliver Bjorkstrand, on the final Blue Jackets power play, with just under two minutes to go, when he quickly moved across the crease from right to left to get his glove on a shot that appeared ticketed for the upper corner.
Columbus took a 1-0 lead on a goal by Cam Atkinson at 12:43 of the first period, but Brendan Lemieux banged in a pass from behind the net by Zibanejad with eight seconds left in the period for his fifth goal. Jacob Trouba’s power-play goal at 5:46 of the second gave the Rangers the lead at 2-1 and Panarin’s goal put them up 3-1 at 15:32 of the second.
Columbus got back in the game when Seth Jones scored on a brilliant individual effort at 3:34 of the third. The Rangers challenged the goal, claiming there was goaltender interference by Columbus’ Josh Anderson, but the ruling was that there was no interference, and the goal was good. That meant the Rangers would be charged with a delay-of-game penalty for the unsuccessful challenge. But the penalty-killing unit was equal to the task and kept Columbus off the board.