NEW YORK CITY -- New York Rangers coach Gerard Gallant had a feeling heading into overtime of Game 7: If his team was going to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins and advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, star winger Artemi Panarin would be the player to do it.
"He's the guy, when it gets to overtime, [where] I said to myself that he was going to score. If we get the winning goal, it's going to be him. Sure enough, he makes a great play," Gallant said.
Panarin fulfilled his coach's precognitive notion, scoring a power-play goal at 4:46 of overtime to give the Rangers a 4-3 win at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night. They will face the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, the first time New York has advanced past the first round since 2017.
It was the third straight come-from-behind victory for the Rangers, who tied the game on a Mika Zibanejad goal with 5:45 left in regulation. Goalie Igor Shesterkin made 42 saves to win his first playoff series. Zibanejad had a goal and two assists.
"Gutsy performance, coming back again. That whole 'no quit New York' think is pretty true for this group," defenseman Jacob Trouba said.
That was especially true for Panarin, who struggled to create on offense during regulation and took two minor penalties.
"You know what? Honestly, the ice wasn't great tonight. The puck was bouncing, and it affects his game more than other guys. People get frustrated at times. I think we saw a little of that," Gallant said.
"I just thought he wasn't having his best night. He tried hard. He competed and got some pucks out. He usually makes a lot of plays, and tonight it just wasn't there," he added. "But you just get a feeling with a guy like him that he can do that for you. And that's what he does."
Before the overtime goal, the Penguins were winning the special teams battle in Game 7, after getting called out by coach Mike Sullivan for a lackluster performance in their Game 6 loss in Pittsburgh. Danton Heinen and Jake Guentzel scored power-play goals and Evan Rodrigues scored short-handed, while the Rangers' power play went 0-for-3 in regulation.
But the Rangers' power play, fourth best in the NHL during the regular season, was the difference-maker in overtime. Penguins forward Brock McGinn took a holding penalty on K'Andre Miller just 2:55 into overtime. After pressuring the Penguins, Panarin's shot from the right side beat Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry for the overtime winner.
What did Panarin see on the goal? He waved his hand in front of his eyes.
"Black picture," Panarin said.
Trouba, seated next to him in a postgame news conference, laughed. "I wish I was that good," he said.
Panarin said the Rangers had been giving him the green light to shoot the puck since the first game of the playoffs.
"I haven't really been making those shots, but maybe I should listen to everyone's advice and get out there and make shots," he said through an interpreter.
Was winning Game 7 at the Garden in overtime the biggest goal of Panarin's career?
"I don't really score that many goals, so I'd have to say that all of them are pretty big," he said, smiling.
The Penguins were seeking a second-round appearance for the first time since 2018. The Game 7 loss could mark the end of their veteran core's time together, as center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang are free agents this summer.
"It's not up to me, but obviously I've had a great experience playing with these guys over the years and know what they bring. Love our group," captain Sidney Crosby said after the game.
Pittsburgh saw its lineup replenished for Game 7. Crosby, who left with an upper-body injury during Game 5 and didn't play in Game 6 -- both Rangers victories -- returned to the ice. So did forward Rickard Rakell, who had been missing since suffering an injury in Game 1. The most dramatic return was that of regular-season starting goalie Jarry, who hadn't played since April 14 after breaking his foot.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead 7:36 into the first period. After Shesterkin made a couple of saves on point-blank chances, a Heinen turnover led to Zibanejad and Chris Kreider sprinting out on a 2-on-1. Zibanejad sent a pass across the zone, and Kreider blasted the puck past Jarry's glove from the right faceoff circle.
The Penguins were the beneficiary of four Rangers penalties in the first period, which included a double-minor for high-sticking on Trouba -- the defenseman whose hit knocked Crosby out of Games 5 and 6.
It was on the second of those Trouba penalties that the Penguins tied the score on a bizarre sequence. Jeff Carter shot the puck at the Rangers' net, where it appeared Heinen knocked it past Shesterkin. Two Penguins players raised their sticks in celebration. But play continued for another 27 seconds until a horn sounded to indicate the league had reviewed the play and spotted a goal.
The Pittsburgh bench started celebrating and pointing to the roof for a review. Replays showed that the puck crossed the line before Rangers defenseman Adam Fox could sweep it away.
The first period ended with the score tied 1-1. The Penguins took the lead with 9:42 left in the second period on a controversial video review. With Kaapo Kakko in the box for a delay of game penalty, Pittsburgh forward Guentzel took a Bryan Rust pass, kicked the puck to his stick and deflected it over Shesterkin's glove with his stick high in the air for a goal.
Apparently, not too high: After a video review, it was determined that the call on the ice would stand. According to the NHL Situation Room, "video review confirmed that Jake Guentzel's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he directed the puck into the Rangers net."
But that advantage was short-lived. Just 1:05 later, Miller shot a puck off defenseman Mike Matheson's skate and in behind a diving Jarry to tie the score at 2-2.
The Rangers had another chance on their power play, which had scored on three of its past six opportunities entering the game. But it was the Penguins who would score their third special teams goal of the game. A misplay by Trouba and a turnover by forward Filip Chytil allowed Rodrigues to spring for a short-handed breakaway. He swept a one-handed backhand shot past Shesterkin for the 3-2 lead with 2:36 left in the second period.
It was a moment of redemption for Rodrigues. He was called out by coach Sullivan after Game 6 for taking a retaliation penalty with the Penguins up 2-0, which sparked the Rangers' comeback win.
It was a critical goal for many reasons, not the least being the Penguins' ability to close games. Including the playoffs, Pittsburgh was 33-1-2 when leading after two periods; the Rangers were 4-20-2 when trailing after two periods.
Jarry continued his strong play in the third, including a critical stop on Rangers forward Tyler Motte on a short-handed breakaway. But the Rangers tied the score on a Zibanejad goal with 5:45 left in regulation.
The Penguins bench was upset on the play, as defenseman Marcus Pettersson had his helmet ripped off by Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere behind the net. The game went to overtime, where Panarin won it.
The Rangers have played the Carolina Hurricanes franchise in the playoffs only once, including its years as the Hartford Whalers. New York lost in the qualifying round of the 2020 "bubble" playoffs 3-0 to the Hurricanes -- a series that included Shesterkin's playoff debut.