Say this for the rebuilding Rangers: They sure don’t look like a team that’s just playing out the string.
On Wednesday night they played four novice defensemen and a rookie goalie against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the Blueshirts fell behind by two goals. But the Rangers battled back hard in the third period, rallying to tie it twice before Mika Zibanejad scored his second goal to give the Rangers a 4-3 overtime victory at Madison Square Garden.
Alexandar Georgiev made 37 saves, including one on a penalty shot by Evgeni Malkin with 10.7 seconds left in regulation, to force the overtime. Zibanejad, whose first goal (and 99th of his career) had tied it 3-3, converted a pass from Chris Kreider to win it at 2:53 of overtime.
“It was a fun game,’’ Zibanejad said. “A lot of chances, a lot of good battles out there, and it’s always nice to get away with a win from a game like this.’’
The Rangers would not have had a chance to win, though, had Georgiev not denied Malkin on the penalty shot. The shot was called after the referee ruled that Georgiev intentionally knocked the net off its supports when he slid across and banged into the goalpost.
“I certainly didn’t do it on purpose,’’ Georgiev said. “I just leaned onto the post and it came up. I don’t know what happened to the net.’’
Malkin, the league’s second-leading scorer with 39 goals and 87 points, came straight down the middle and then went to his forehand, but Georgiev stayed with him and made the save with his right pad.
“I just wanted to be patient with him and wait for him to make the first, and make the second, and make the third move,’’ Georgiev said. “It can be tough [to be patient], but he didn’t sell me anything this time.’’
The Rangers entered the third period trailing 2-0 and on the penalty kill, with Ryan Sproul — called up from Hartford and in the lineup to replace the injured Tony DeAngelo — in the box for a slashing penalty at the end of the second period. But goals from Kreider (on the power play) and Jesper Fast tied it at 2-2 before former Ranger Carl Hagelin put the Penguins ahead on a wraparound goal with 4:19 left. But a power play goal by Zibanejad 1:02 later tied it again 3-3.
“There was certainly a lot going on in that last period,’’ a smiling Vigneault said. “Momentum is a funny thing, sometimes. We kill off the penalty at the beginning of the third, score on our power play. They start playing on their heels a little bit, we get a little bit of momentum . . . we’re able to tie it up and right after, they make it 3-2, we get a power play [goal to tie it again] . . .
“I won’t say anything about that 10 seconds left call there [which resulted in Malkin’s penatly shot]. I’ll leave that one alone, take the two points and go from there.’’
Notes & quotes: Rangers rookie defenseman Neal Pionk had three assists, including a helper on the tying and winning goals. Pionk has nine assists in 17 games since being called up from Hartford in late February . . . Zibanejad had a game-high nine shots on goal . . . Former Ranger Derick Brassard, acquired by the Penguins from the Senators at the trade deadline, had an assist and three shots on goal in 16:42 of ice time . . . The Rangers will have off Thursday and practice Friday before heading to St. Louis for Saturday’s game.