SAN JOSE -- What the Rangers will remember from their victory on Thursday night is the mettle-testing, back-and-forth battle they won over a desperate team and in a hostile rink. What everyone else will remember is the dueling fireworks displays that Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad staged in the decisive moments of the game.
Neither is wrong. Zibanejad scored twice within 4:21 of the third period, first to tie the score, then to put the Rangers ahead, and not to be outdone, Panarin pulled the Blueshirts away with goals 47 seconds apart to complete his third career hat trick -- and the Rangers wrote a stylish ending to a gutsy victory, 6-3 over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night at SAP Center.
Panarin's hat trick was his first as a Ranger, and also - mercifully -- his first that was not against the Rangers. His other two came as a visitor at Madison Square Garden.
But the comfortable score line his goals provided does not aptly represent the way the Rangers had to dig down to win this one. For one thing, the Sharks were playing their first game since Peter DeBoer, their Coach of the last five seasons who had brought the team to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final in 2016, had been relieved of his duties on Wednesday. And against that backdrop, the Rangers fell behind twice in this game, including once in the third period when Brendan Dillon's short-range cannon blast put the Sharks ahead by 3-2.
But Zibanejad snapped wrist shots from each circle past Martin Jones, the first one on a power play to tie it up, the second to grab a 4-3 lead, and the Rangers' penalty kill - spotless for five games running now - shepherded the advantage into the final minutes until Panarin put the thing away.
"We just were relentless," David Quinn said. "Once our power play delivered when it was 3-2, you could feel the momentum change on our bench, and the attitude. … There was an eagerness and a determination from our guys: 'We just made it 3-3. Let's finish the job.' And we certainly did it."
They did it for the fourth time in five road games (4-1-1), and they did it yet again to follow up a loss - improving their record to an increasingly remarkable 10-1 in their last 11 games following a defeat.
And they did it with five different players turning in multi-point nights, with Jesper Fast scoring a goal and an assist and Chris Kreider and Filip Chytil collecting two helpers apiece, one of them a flashy first-period setup of Fast's goal.
But for all the flashy numbers and all the flashy plays, that's not what the Rangers will take away from this victory: They'll take the pair of comebacks on the road against a team in dire need of a win; they'll take the penalty kill with under six minutes left in a one-goal game on which they allowed zero shots on goal; they'll take Marc Staal playing through obvious pain after blocking a shot halfway through the game, and being a part of that crucial late kill; they'll take all of 18 shots getting through to Alexandar Georgiev in the game, a measly two of them in the third period.
And they'll take the resilience that continues to build upon itself, something they were not in possession of when the 2019-20 season began.
"The beginning of the year, we didn't really have an answer in the game - during the game, we couldn't find our way to get back," said Zibanejad, who has four goals in seven games since returning from an upper-body injury. "I think we've been finding ways to crawl back in games where we're not playing good, keep trusting our system, keep working on the little things, and it's been paying off."
"Those are the things that we hadn't shown earlier in the year within a game," Quinn said. "We dug deep tonight."
That's not to say, however, that it wasn't something special to watch the late-game skills competition from Zibanejad and Panarin. Quinn had separated the two for the second half of Tuesday's game in Los Angeles, and kept them apart for this one, which created something of a matchup conundrum for Bob Boughner, who was in his first game replacing DeBoer on an interim basis, and whose two Norris Trophy-winning defensemen, Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, finished scoreless and a combined minus-5. One of those two was on the ice for all six Ranger goals.
Dillon, Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture each scored for the Sharks, whose losing streak reached a season-long six games (0-5-1). Dillon's goal at 4:12 of the third put the home side in front for the second time on the night, until Zibanejad, Panarin and the Rangers' special teams took over.
"They're special players," Quinn said, "and I just feel so good for both Panarin and for Mika."
"Just amazing how great of a player he is," Georgiev, who won for the fifth time in six games, said of Panarin, "and how he manages to create something special every game, and help us win games."
Every Ranger did something to help win this one. Fast picked up his second goal of the road trip 5:02 into the second, tying the score 1-1 and bursting the dam on Jones, who managed to hold the Rangers at bay through the first period. Panarin scored his first goal 2:54 later, off of Brady Skjei's pinch to keep a play alive and Ryan Strome's spinning pass across the crease.
Couture scored off a steal 11:32 into the second, then Dillon walking in off a rush 4:12 into the third. But Kreider drew a trip on Barclay Goodrow at center ice, then set the screen through which Zibanejad fired the tying power-play goal from the right circle with 11:11 to play. "A perfect screen," Zibanejad said. "I see a little opening, and this time I hit it."
He repeated the feat from the other side with 6:50 left - he nearly set up Fast's second just moments before - and Panarin won a battle with Marc-Edouard Vlasic to add insurance with 3:11 to play, then hit an empty net from a stride inside the red line in the final 2:24 to complete the hat trick.
Now the Rangers move on to Anaheim, where they will close out this four-game Western swing on Saturday, and where a team that knows how to answer a loss will try to hone its abilities at answering a win. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't take a moment to savor this one, just as Zibanejad took a moment afterward to savor what he and Panarin had just helped to accomplish.
"He enjoys scoring goals, I'll tell you that much," Zibanejad said. "It's fun to watch him, and to get a chance to play with him. He's unbelievable. And he's a happy guy. What he means to this team, what he does for this team, when he's able to do it he's even happier, and the team is happier.
"I can't really say how important he is for us, and it's just fun to watch."