If the Rangers end up making the playoffs this spring, Mika Zibanejad should be handed the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
That’s because he will have gotten them there — including an unbelievable performance Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in which he scored five goals, including the winner, as the Rangers beat the Washington Capitals, 6-5, in overtime.
“I don’t know, the puck followed me today, I guess,’’ Zibanejad said with an incredulous look on his face. “Today I was at the right spot at the right time. But I’m a lot more happy that we won. It’s a night I’ll remember for a long time.’’
The Rangers (36-27-4) blew four one-goal leads, but each time, Zibanejad got it back for them.
His final goal came 33 seconds into overtime as the Rangers snapped a three-game losing streak and pulled within two points of the Islanders for the second wild-card spot.
“What a fantastic player he is, and what a fantastic person he is,’’ coach David Quinn said. “Just sit back and watch and enjoy it, because it was a special night, in so many ways, for him. And for us, too, to win a game of that magnitude. It was a special night, not just for Mika but for all of us to be part of it.’’
Someone asked Zibanejad if he ever had scored five goals before.
“No. I don’t understand it,’’ he said. “I feel like I’m speechless. I don’t know what else to say to you guys. I’m sorry.’’
Zibanejad became the third Ranger to score five goals in a game. Don Murdoch (Oct. 12, 1976, at the Minnesota North Stars) and Mark Pavelich (Feb. 23, 1983, vs. the Hartford Whalers) are the others.
“That was unbelievable,’’ said Alexandar Georgiev, who made 29 saves. “What a night for him. Obviously, he got the ‘W’ for us today. Special, special player. Like many guys already said, [there’s] not much talk about him in this league, and I think he needs to get that recognition. Because he’s right there at the top of the league.’’
Twice the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin tried to spoil Zibanejad’s big night. After Zibanejad put the Rangers up 4-3 only 12 seconds into the third period, Ovechkin scored to make it 4-4. After Zibanejad scored with 1:42 left,
Ovechkin tied it with 42.9 seconds left to force overtime. That’s when Zibanejad capped his big night with the winner.
Artemi Panarin tracked down a loose puck inside his own blue line, turned and fired a laser pass right up the middle to Zibanejad at the Washington blue line. He turned on the jets, went to his backhand and roofed a shot over Washington goalie Ilya Samsonov for his 38th goal in 54 games overall and 14th in the last 10 games.
Zibanejad’s previous career high was 30 goals last season.
“He’s probably one of the most underrated guys in the league, that no one talks about him,’’ Ryan Strome said. “Almost 40 goals now, he’s playing first PK, he’s on the power play — can play any position on the power play — he takes big faceoffs, he plays big minutes, feels like the moment’s never too big for him.
“He wants the puck on his stick, and he knows how good he is,’’ Strome said. “If you look at our faces when he scored the last goal, we’re just in awe of him and how special he’s been for us.’’
Tony DeAngelo was the only other Ranger to score Thursday night, and he added two assists. Panarin had three assists and Pavel Buchnevich had two.