In the second shift of overtime Tuesday night at the Garden against the Penguins, Rangers coach David Quinn sent the trio of Pavel Buchnevich, 24, Adam Fox, 21, and Kaapo Kakko, 18, over the boards to play three-on-three hockey. Two of the three, Fox and Kakko, are rookies.
How, Quinn was asked, could you throw all that youth out there in such a big spot?
“How did it work out?’’ the coach said, with a smile.
It couldn’t have worked out any better for the Rangers. They ended up beating the Penguins, 3-2, when Kakko, the Finnish sensation who was the No. 2 pick overall in this summer’s NHL draft, drove the net and tapped in a pretty feed from Fox, the Jericho native, for his second goal of the game, and the game-winner.
“Great pass by Foxy,’’ Kakko said of his game-winner, his sixth goal of the season. “That was easy for me.’’
Kakko and Fox had scored early and late in the first period to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission, but the Penguins, who were without their captain, Sidney Crosby who is out with an undisclosed injury, got goals from defenseman Justin Schultz and center Jared McCann in the second period to tie it.
After a scoreless third period in which the Rangers had several good chances to score the winner in regulation — including a power play with 4:10 left in the third period — the game went to the five-minute, three-on-three overtime.
The Rangers’ opening trio of Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and Tony DeAngelo got trapped on the ice in their own zone for an extended shift that lasted longer than 2 minutes, but the Penguins made a mistake and the puck leaked out of the zone, allowing the Rangers to get a change.
“That happens a lot in the overtime, right?’’ Quinn said. “They catch us down in our end, they’re able to change, and we hung on. We get some fresh bodies out there and we’re able to counter and just a heckuva play by Fox to Kakko.’’
Kakko has shown tremendous growth in the last few games — in Sunday’s 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, he scored the Rangers’ only goal in the shootout — when he needed to score to keep the Rangers alive for one more round. He had also scored in regulation. His confidence is clearly growing, and he was flying around the ice all night against the Penguins.
“Just talking to him — the way he walks around now, there’s just a whole new level of swagger to him that I hadn’t seen since he got here,’’ said Quinn. “Not only on the ice, but off the ice.’’
With the Rangers playing their seventh straight game without No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad, the surging Kakko got them off to a fast start when he scored his fifth goal of the season, on a breakaway, where he calmly went to the backhand and slid the puck past goaltender Matt Murray for his fifth goal of the season at 6:42 of the first period.
The Rangers had the territorial advantage for most of the first half of the period, but a couple of hooking penalties, to Brett Howden and Panarin, helped the Penguins get some momentum.
However, just after Panarin got out of the penalty box, he was able to set up Fox for his third goal of the season, which came with 9.3 seconds left in the first period and put the Rangers up, 2-0.
But the Penguins rallied in the second period. Schultz was able to walk down from the point and lift a wrist shot up in the top corner for his second goal of the season, at 1:13, and McCann scored on a power play, with Fox in the box for hooking. McCann was first to a loose puck in the right circle and whipped it over Georgiev’s catching glove at 12:33.