Rangers coach Gerard Gallant looks on during the first period...

Rangers coach Gerard Gallant looks on during the first period of an NHL preseason game against the Bruins on Sept. 28, 2021, at Madison Square Garden. Credit: AP/Corey Sipkin

Things were looking bleak for the Rangers late in the third period of Wednesday night’s game in Arizona. They were down a goal to the lowly Coyotes and without their leading scorer, Artemi Panarin, who had left early in the second period with an injury.

But two late power-play goals by Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko helped the Rangers (19-7-3) pull out a 3-2 victory over the Coyotes (5-21-2) that salvaged a split of the two-game road trip.

Afterward, a relieved Gerard Gallant was able to joke around.

"Bread [Panarin] will have a tough time finding that spot again,’’ Gallant said, referring to the fact that Kakko, who had two goals in the game, was playing in Panarin’s place on the power play when he scored the winner with 2:18 remaining.

Gallant was teasing, of course.

If Panarin, who suffered a "minor lower-body’’ injury, according to Gallant, is cleared to play Friday — when the Rangers host Gallant’s former team, the Vegas Golden Knights — he’ll certainly be back in his usual spot at the left-wing circle on the first power-play unit. Panarin has a team-high 33 points in 29 games.

Although Gallant assured reporters Wednesday night that Panarin’s injury is not serious, that doesn’t mean he is guaranteed to play Friday as the Rangers close out a grinding portion of the schedule that included three sets of back-to-back games and 10 games in 17 days.

After Friday’s game, the Rangers don’t play again until Wednesday at the Garden against the rebuilding Montreal Canadiens. After that game, they will get another four days off for the Christmas break, resuming their schedule Dec. 27 at the Garden against the Detroit Red Wings.

So if Panarin is any kind of iffy, the prudent thing for the Rangers to do would be to have him skip Friday’s game and get an extra day’s rest in order to be ready for Wednesday. And if they go that route, they are going to need Kakko to continue to fill in on the first power-play unit.

The 20-year-old Finn would be more than happy to oblige.

"Yeah, of course,’’ he said when asked about playing on the top unit with linemates Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, plus Adam Fox and Ryan Strome. "Sometimes that’s easy. Like I just go to the net and they can find me.’’

Kakko said he didn’t feel pressure to replace Panarin on the top power-play unit Wednesday because he wasn’t set up in Panarin’s regular spot in the left circle. That assignment went to Zibanejad, who played that spot before Panarin signed with the team as a free agent in 2019. Kakko instead played in the slot as a second net-front presence along with Kreider.

"We had two net-front guys there, with Kreider there on the side and then Kaapo down low,’’ Gallant said of the power-play setup without Panarin. "And Kreids [three assists Wednesday] made a great pass to him on the back door [for the goal].’’

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