RALEIGH, N.C.— Artemi Panarin has a very definitive style to his playmaking ability. Free skating. Creative. Improvisational. Risk taking. The sum effect is why the Rangers invested $81.5 million over seven seasons in the Breadman.
Except that’s not necessarily the way Panarin knows he should be playing in the all-or-nothing postseason, in which games, and thus series, can turn on one mistake, one defensive lapse, one turnover.
“It’s not feeling great, but sometimes you have to do it,” Panarin said. “It depends on the situation in the game. I would love to do some stupid [stuff] on the blue line. But I can’t. I just feel bad for Turk [coach Gerard Gallant]. He’s nervous.”
Panarin entered Friday night’s Game 2 of the second-round series against the Hurricanes at PNC Arena with three goals and four assists in eight playoff games, including the overtime score in the Rangers’ Game 7 win over the Penguins at Madison Square Garden in the first round.
But there also have been long stretches in which Panarin’s line with center Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp has been largely invisible, at least offensively.
Panarin and Strome each had two shots and Copp had one in the Rangers’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Wednesday’s Game 1. The Rangers held a 1-0 lead until Sebastian Aho’s equalizer at 17:37 of the third period.
“It’s just hard to do something crazy when we lead 1-0 and we’re playing a pretty conservative game,” Panarin said. “I try to not take much risk like I usually take.”
One of the direct results is that Panarin has not had the puck on his stick as much in the playoffs. That’s partly by design to eliminate some of the risk-reward in his game.
“Probably for the playoffs, that’s enough,” he said of having the puck on his stick. “For regular season, a little bit not enough. But playoffs is a pretty tight game. People are closer to you but they still have to find that space.
“I try and play the same way but sometimes you just can’t do that,” added Panarin, who had 22 goals and 74 assists in 75 regular-season games. “But actually it’s fine when you know for what you play like that. We played like a team last game. For me, it was the best 2 1⁄2 periods probably for like a team game. We were pretty conservative. Disciplined. Everyone did the perfect thing, just not enough.”
But Panarin also recognizes his line’s play can improve.
It almost certainly must for the Rangers to have a real chance in their series against the Metropolitan Division champions.
“I think we have to be closer to each other,” Panarin said. “Support each other more. A little bit of everything to bring it more on the ice.”
Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider entered Game 2 as the Rangers’ leading playoff scorers among their forwards. Despite the second line’s perceived struggles, Copp (four goals, three assists), Panarin and Strome (one goal, five assists) were the next three top-scoring forwards in the playoffs.
Still, there’s more of a balance that can be achieved for Panarin’s line.
“You want more offense,” Gallant said. “But the bottom line is [Wednesday] night it was perfect for two periods. When we go over the game and we see the other team had three scoring chances in their building, I think we did a good job. So I’m not going to force them to change their game from what we did. I’d love to see them get the opportunities that The Kid Line got [Wednesday] night.”
Ah, The Kid Line.
Filip Chytil, 22, had the Rangers’ lone goal in Game 1, off a feed from Alexis Lafreniere, 20. Kaapo Kakko, 21, perhaps should have had two goals. More playoff games than not, that’s been the Rangers’ best trio.
“In the playoffs, it takes all four lines,” Strome said. “Every game, there could be a different X factor, and I think they’ve been that for a few games. It’s a good sign for our team and for them. They’ve worked really hard to earn it. It hasn’t just come to them. They really worked for it and I’m really happy for them.”