ST. PAUL -- Mika Zibanejad placed himself in a soft spot in the Minnesota defense, set the target for a pass, and in the blink of an eye the puck was on and then off his stick, headed toward the goal. Eventually, it got there.
"I didn't even know if it was going to make it to the net, to be honest with you," Zibanejad said with a grin afterward. "I've never seen a puck go that slow into the net."
"Into the net" are the operative words there, because what the goal lacked in velocity it made up for in enormity. It came off an Artemi Panarin feed with 1:06 remaining in regulation and it completed the Blueshirts' comeback from a two-goal deficit in the final eight minutes of regulation to extend the game to extra time. And after Alexandar Georgiev made a few monster saves in the OT, Panarin took his own sweet time in beating Alex Stalock for the clinching goal in the Rangers' 4-3 come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
The Rangers' first shootout win of the season was their third victory in a row overall, their sixth in the last eight games, and it gave them their first four-game road winning streak in three years. And it had all the feel of a signature victory for a team that has come to believe it is never out of a game.
"There sure was no quit in us tonight," David Quinn said afterward. "We just never, never quit.
"We've been talking about the fact that the belief we have in each other has continued to grow throughout the season; it was never more evident than it was tonight."
Pavel Buchnevich scored the goal that got the comeback started with just over eight minutes left to play, while Panarin scored a first-period goal and then set up Zibanejad's equalizer, just minutes before both he and Zibanejad beat Stalock in the shootout. Georgiev wound up untested in that shootout - Ryan Donato lost his handle on the puck, and Zach Parise put the game's final shot off the crossbar - but he carried all the weight he needed to through the 65 minutes of play, finishing his night with 23 saves, including two early-third-period breakaways and three beauties on the red-hot Kevin Fiala at the end of the 3-on-3 OT.
It all added up to an enormous win that the Rangers have little time to celebrate: By the time they were packing their bags postgame, their minds already were in Columbus, where on Friday night against a division foe the Blueshirts will have a chance to sweep a three-game trip.
"We've got to get on a little bit run here, and hopefully this is a kickstarter," Ryan Strome said. "This was a gutsy effort. We found a way."
Jordan Greenway, the 6-6, 225-pounder who played for Quinn at Boston University, had a goal and an assist and was a handful for the Rangers all night, and Jonas Brodin had the same for the Wild, who were beaten for just the second time in their last six games (4-1-1).
Donato scored game's opening goal for Minnesota, but he had a chance too to effectively put the game to bed with a breakaway three minutes into the third. Georgiev, who was making just his second start in 23 days, shut the door - just as he did when he raced out toward neutral ice to dive and beat Greenway to a puck on another breakaway, a play that sent both the Minnesota winger and Brady Skjei way, way airborne.
"The breakaway save he made on Donato was a huge save. It gives us a chance -- obviously the game's over if they score there," Quinn said. "Just a gutsy, gutsy effort by Georgie."
It was a gutsy effort by a number of Rangers, including Brendan Smith, who played start-to-finish on the blue line for the first time this season after Marc Staal was ruled out because of a flu. A tip of the cap goes to Quinn as well, because his decision to challenge a Minnesota goal in the second period was the right move - he said afterward that he wrestled with risking the challenge, but the more he watched the replay of Ryan Hartman clipping legs with Georgiev as Matt Dumba's shot came in, the more he thought, "This has to be goalie interference."
It was, and it took a goal off the board after Donato and Brodin had already scored around Panarin's goal, set up by superb passes from Strome and Tony DeAngelo. Still, even after Dumba's goal was taken away, Greenway got the Wild's insurance goal 2:07 before second intermission, reaching out to tip Brodin's blue-line shot - putting the Rangers down by a pair to enter the third but never putting them into anything like panic mode.
"I thought for the most part in the third period we were calm on the bench," Strome said. "We were positive. We tried to just say, 'Get one. Find a way.' And we did."
Buchnevich got the one, with 8:09 left, spinning down low and attempting a pass that pinballed in off two defenders. "Look at the goals," said Strome, "there's guys around the net and good things happen."
Quinn, who put Panarin and Zibanejad together for the comeback bid in the third, used his timeout with 1:49 remaining to get Georgiev on the bench and six skaters on the ice. On the ensuing shift, Panarin took Adam Fox's pass at the left wall, then saw Zibanejad in some space in the belly of the slot, and fired one for this stickblade.
"It's a great pass -- they try to pressure quite a bit and that play opened up," said Zibanejad, whose goal was his 50th point this season. "It was a hard pass and I'm just trying to redirect it, and I just don't think (Stalock) saw it."
Zibanejad's shootout attempt was a picture-perfect top-shelf backhander, while Panarin - who at one point in the overtime teasingly appeared as though he was about to try a lacrosse-style shot from behind the net - put together a thousand dekes before scoring a goal that was not without some controversy. Minnesota's bench believed Panarin had drawn the puck backward, a shootout no-no, but after a brief video review officials gave it a thumbs-up.
Quinn said he "wasn't 100 percent" sure they would rule that way, and the Rangers' bench appeared less than totally certain that Parise's must-have try hadn't gone quickly in and out of the net. It wasn't until the overhead scoreboard showed a replay of the puck bounding off iron that they hopped over the boards to celebrate with Georgiev.
Then it was quickly on to Columbus, where on Friday the Rangers will take aim at their first four-game winning streak of 2019-20.
"This is the type of win you want to build on," Strome said, "and hopefully we can keep it going."