It’s been a recurring theme for the Rangers this season. They’ve brought themselves to the cusp of a playoff berth for the first time in five years because whenever they’ve been challenged, they’ve met the challenge; and when they’ve been behind in games, they’ve been able to come back and find ways to win.
They did that Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, in their first game after returning from a four-game road trip. Down a goal midway through the third period, they got a power-play goal from Chris Kreider to tie it, and then won, 4-3, when Adam Fox scored off a pass from Artemi Panarin 55 seconds into the five-minute, sudden-death overtime.
Fox, who was the end of his shift, raced up ice on a two-on-one break with Panarin, who had just come on to the ice. Panarin, who had three assists in the game, passed to Fox, who beat Anaheim goaltender John Gibson to record his ninth goal of the season, and his first career overtime goal.
"When I saw a two-on-one chance, I got a little second wind there, especially with Bread (Panarin),’’ said Fox, who had two assists to go with the game-winning goal.
"We feel comfortable playing those (close) games,’’ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said after his team posted its 20th come-from-behind victory this season. "When you're having a good year like we're having, you find the way to win those games.’’
They found a way to win this time without having their best player, goaltender Igor Shesterkin, in the game. Gallant decided to start backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev -- who had lost his last five starts -- against the Ducks, the last team he’d beaten, way back on Jan. 8.
It’s been a difficult season for Georgiev, who has found it impossible to find any rhythm with Shesterkin playing fabulously and getting the lion’s share of the ice time. But Georgiev, who started last Tuesday in Minnesota, and then played 39 minutes in relief of Shesterkin Thursday in Dallas, made some excellent saves early, and kept his concentration enough to stop 20-of-23 shots on goal to improve his record to 8-9-2.
"It makes him feel good, to touch some pucks (early),’’ Gallant said of Georgiev. "I thought he looked good and looked solid and looked comfortable tonight. That's a good sign.’’
Georgiev was good early, his biggest save being one where he slid post-to-post to rob Trevor Zegras, alone for a shot from point-blank range with 10:46 left in the first period.
The Rangers led, 1-0, on a goal by Jonny Brodzinski at 4:29 of the period, but Anaheim tied it 1-1 at 14:05, when a shot by Troy Terry pinballed off a couple of bodies, the last being Anaheim’s Max Comtois, and got behind the goalie.
Mika Zibanejad’s 24th goal of the season, on a one-timer from a sharp angle on delayed penalty, gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 3:06 of the second period, but Cam Fowler tied it on a power-play goal at 4:53, firing a shot from the point, through a screen, that Georgiev appeared not to have seen.
Anaheim took a 3-2 lead when Derek Grant got behind the Rangers defense and beat Georgiev on a breakaway at 10:35 of the third period, but the Rangers tied it on Kreider’s 39th goal and league-leading 20th extra-man goal, at 13:40. That came after coach Gerard Gallant had called timeout to keep his top power-play unit on, and Kreider deflected the shot by Fox off the backboards and then whacked in the rebound. The goal was the 400th point of his career.
"I think it speaks to how focused this group is on accomplishing our first goal, which is to make the playoffs,’’ Kreider said when asked about the Rangers’ ability to come back from deficits. "Regardless if the game's not going well, or you don't feel like you're going well individually, guys are able to refocus and help the team try to win a hockey game.’’