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Mika Zibanejad nets hat trick as Rangers erupt in 9-0 win over Flyers

The scoreboard at the end of the second

The scoreboard at the end of the second period shows the New York Rangers leading the Philadelphia Flyers 9-0 at Madison Square Garden on March 17, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

Roughly two-and-a-half hours before the scheduled faceoff for their St. Patrick’s Day showdown with the Philadelphia Flyers at Madison Square Garden Wednesday, the Rangers announced that their entire bench coaching staff — head coach David Quinn and assistants Jacques Martin, David Oliver and Greg Brown — would be unavailable for the game due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

Maybe the staff should take a night off more often.

With Hartford Wolf Pack coaches Kris Knoblauch and Gord Murphy, and Rangers associate GM Chris Drury behind the bench for the Rangers, Mika Zibanejad exploded for three goals and three assists, and Pavel Buchnevich, who came off the team’s COVID-19 list and went right into the lineup, had two goals and two assists, as the Rangers thoroughly embarrassed the Flyers, 9-0 in front of a national TV audience.

Zibanejad’s six points in the period tied an NHL record held by former Rangers coach Bryan Trottier, who had six points for the Islanders in the second period of a 9-4 win over the Rangers on Dec. 23, 1978.

"It’s been a different, different year — a different season,’’ said Zibanejad, who doubled his season goal total with his fifth career hat trick. "Obviously, not just with no fans and the way things are right now, [but] just around the world as well. So, a lot of a lot of firsts this year. Obviously you get you get a little shock when you hear [the coaching staff is out], and you just got to be able to adapt. And I thought our guys did a great job.’’

The nine goals were a season-high for the Rangers, who split the two-game series with the Flyers and reached the halfway point of the 56-game season with a record of 12-12-4. Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who had been pulled from each of his last two starts, made 26 saves to earn his second shutout of the season.

The announcement that the Rangers coaches were out came at around 5 p.m., the same time as Buchnevich and defenseman Adam Fox, who both had missed Monday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Flyers after being placed on the NHL’s COVID list that day, were officially removed from the list.

But the Rangers knew much earlier that something was possible. Quinn had a pregame Zoom chat with the media scheduled for 11:30 a.m., but that was abruptly changed, and pushed back to the evening. At around 11:30, while he was on the ice for practice with Hartford, Knoblauch said he got called off the ice and told to talk to Drury, who generally serves as the Wolf Pack GM. Drury alerted him to the fact that he might have to coach the Rangers game, and it was confirmed about 1 p.m.

"I rush home and pack, you know, initially it was going to be one game, and they’re like, ‘Well, you might be going on the [upcoming] road trip,’’’ Knoblauch said. "And then you’re packing extra. So really, you didn’t have much time to think about it.’’

Knoblauch said the game plan had been put together by Quinn and his staff, so there was relatively little prep work for he and Murphy to do.

"When the game started, there’s some nerves, there’s definitely some excitement,’’ he said. "But then you’ve got to get in game mode, or coach mode when you call that first line, that first change. Yeah, it’s certainly a night that I’ll never forget.’’

Fox got the Rangers started when he drove down the right wing and sent a cross-ice pass to Brendan Lemieux for a tap-in goal that put the Rangers up 1-0 at 7:05 of the first period. Artemi Panarin made it 2-0 at 14:47 of the period, and the Rangers were well on their way.

Buchnevich scored the first two goals of what would be a seven-goal second period for the Rangers, and then, after Jacob Trouba scored his first goal of the season, Zibanejad scored three straight to make it 8-0. Filip Chytil made it 9-0 just before the period ended.

Brian Elliott, the Flyers’ starting goaltender, was pulled after Trouba’s goal, which came at 7:30 of the period. But the first shot that Carter Hart faced was a shorthanded breakaway by Zibanejad, who had time to fake to the forehand, fake to the backhand, and then come back to the forehand and tuck it behind the sprawled-out goalie at 8:27.

Notes & quotes: Forward Phillip DiGiuseppe, who had been placed on the COVID list on Sunday, remained on the list and was unavailable.

New York Sports