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Five-goal night highlights Mika Zibanejad's key contribution to Rangers' season

Mika Zibanejad of the Rangers celebrates after defeating

Mika Zibanejad of the Rangers celebrates after defeating the Capitals in overtime at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, March 5, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — How did Mika Zibanejad spend the day after authoring a bit of Rangers franchise history?

By going to work.

“This doesn’t change anything for me, really,” he said after practice Friday.

Zibanejad scored five goals in the Rangers’ 6-5 overtime win over the Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, joining Don Murdoch and Mark Pavelich as the only players in franchise history to score five goals in a game. According to the Rangers, he is the first player in the league since Sergei Fedorov in 1996 to score five goals, including one in overtime, in a single game.

“My dad and my girlfriend are obviously here,” Zibanejad said. “So it was a special night, be able to share it with them and then go home and just kind of reflect.”

As the Rangers push for the organization’s first playoff berth since the 2016-17 season, Zibanejad has been a key contributor. With 15 games left, he already has a career-high 38 goals along with 33 assists in 54 games. His previous career high was 30 goals last season.

Zibanejad’s production has increased since the start of the calendar year. He has 22 goals and 18 assists in 28 games in 2020, including 11 goals and nine assists in 15 games in February. That earned him the league’s second star of the month honors.

“I didn’t know he was this good when I took the job,” coach David Quinn said.

An argument can be made that he is among the league’s elite centers. Entering Friday, he was third in goals behind Toronto’s Auston Matthews (46) and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (43). His 71 points trailed only Draisaitl (110), Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (95), Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon (88), Matthews (79) and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel (77).

“He’s got such passion for the game. He wants to be the best player he can possibly be. He comes every day and works hard. He’s everything you want in your best player,” Quinn said. “It’s so important for an organization when you’ve got your best player approaching the game the way he does, not only in games but in practices.”

Notes & quotes: The Rangers are three points behind Columbus for the first wild-card slot and two behind the Islanders for the second wild card. “The fact that we’re in this situation really speaks volumes to the makeup of our team,” Quinn said. “We’re playing with a little bit of a snarl right now and not backing down, which is a big part of having success in this league. You better have an attitude.” .  .  . The Rangers will conclude their regular-season series with the Devils on Saturday night at the Garden. After a 5-2 defeat Oct. 17 at Prudential Center, the Rangers won the next two meetings, 4-0 on Nov. 30 and 6-3 on Jan. 9. “They’re one of our rivals,” Quinn said. “We need to come completely focused mentally and ready to go physically and be willing to pay a price to win a hockey game.’’ .  .  .  Igor Shesterkin practiced, and Quinn did not rule out having the rookie goaltender play against the Devils. The game would be Shesterkin’s first since he suffered a broken rib in a car accident on Feb. 23.

New York Sports