In the Spider-Man origin story, shortly after Peter Parker gets his new powers, his uncle Ben tells him, "With great power comes great responsibility."
In the context of playoff hockey, that concept could be applied to Rangers forward Artemi Panarin, who certainly has great hockey powers and who definitely has great responsibility to help make the Blueshirts’ offense go.
Which is why the question arose of whether Panarin had been good enough in the Rangers’ 4-3, triple-overtime loss in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. The Rangers’ leading scorer in the regular season, with a career-high 96 points in 75 games, was held without a point Tuesday despite playing 31 minutes and 53 seconds, including 31:32 at even strength, the most of any forward on either team.
Asked on Wednesday about Panarin as he prepared his team for Game 2 Thursday, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant defended Panarin’s scoreless outing.
“He created a lot of chances [Tuesday] night,’’ Gallant said. “When we look back at the chances, he missed on some real good chances, but overall, we all can be better, not just Panarin. We all can be better. We were all really good [early in the game]. And then we were all fair [after the first period]. That's my assessment of Panarin, and the rest of the team.’’
Television analyst Ed Olczyk, who was to call Game 2 for TNT, also insisted Panarin was fine in Game 1.
“I thought he made three or four plays that only maybe three or four players in the league can make [Tuesday] night,’’ Olczyk said.
Olczyk made note of one particular play Panarin made inside the final five minutes of the first overtime, where he made a slick pass to split two defenders and get the puck to Adam Fox, who skated all alone into the high slot. Instead of shooting, though, Fox sent it to Ryan Strome, who couldn't handle Fox's pass because it handcuffed him.
“He held on to the puck and waited for the lane [to open] and he knew Fox was getting into the area,’’ Olczyk said. “And he just put it on a fishing line and just said, ‘OK, I'm gonna throw this thing exactly here.’ And it was really not much heat on it. I mean, it was just a brilliant play."
Still, there were other times in the game where MSG’s TV cameras caught Panarin looking frustrated after he lost control of a puck or didn't execute a play the way he wanted. But Olczyk didn’t think that was unusual.
“He flubbed a couple of shots, but I mean, OK, that's gonna happen,’’ Olczyk said. “But I thought he was very noticeable for my television.’’
Panarin only had two shots on goal in Game 1, but that’s not so unusual for him. He’s the playmaker on his line, not the finisher. His linemates, Strome and Andrew Copp, had 14 shots between them, with Strome taking eight and Copp, who scored the Rangers’ second goal, taking six.
Panarin and the Rangers would have been helped by a few more power-play opportunities. The Rangers finished fourth in the regular season in power-play efficiency, scoring on 25.2% of their attempts, but they only got one power play in the entire game and Fox scored on it midway through the first period to give them a 1-0 lead. Pittsburgh got four power plays, including a five-on-three advantage late in the second period after Chris Kreider’s shorthanded goal had momentarily given the Blueshirts a 3-2 lead. The Penguins cashed in on the five-on-three to tie the score at 3.
Gallant was asked whether the lack of power plays was a result of the referees not calling penalties they should have, or because the Rangers didn’t do enough to force the Penguins to take penalties.
“There probably should have been a couple of calls made, definitely, when you look back at it,’’ he said. “But again, we're not going to complain. We're going to go play our game. We’re obviously disappointed that they got the five-on-three . . . but you know what, you move on. You play the game. That wasn't the difference in the hockey game. We just got to make sure we play better for 60 minutes. We'll be fine.’’