Artemi Panarin reaches milestone in Rangers’ quality win — ‘He’s taken his goal-scoring to another level’

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BOSTON — Artemi Panarin is such a goal-scorer now, he even scores when he’s trying to pass. He had a pivotal goal inside the final minute of the second period here on Thursday, the second of his three on the night, when he sent the puck across the low slot for Alex Wennberg and it deflected off two Bruins and in to put the Rangers in front.

They continued on to a 5-2 win over Boston, the NHL’s points leader. But now the team with the best points percentage is the Rangers, who played a strong final 40 minutes against an elite opponent and came away on top. Panarin’s hat trick led the way — he now has 42 goals on the season, cracking the 40-goal mark for the first time in his exceptional career. He’s also now two points from his first 100-point season and the Rangers’ first since Jaromir Jagr did it in 2005-06.

“It’s great to have, of course,” Panarin said. “I never thought it was (possible). You know me, I usually never focus on goals but I try to shoot more this year.”

Panarin had 10 shot attempts on Thursday, giving him 530 for the season. His previous season-high was 470. With a dozen games left, 50 goals seems out of reach, but it’s been a while since any Ranger had over 500 shot attempts in a season. Adding that dimension to his game has not just opened up new avenues of offense for him and his line, it’s taken the heat off Mika Zibanejad’s line for its dry spell at five-on-five.

Zibanejad had the last empty-netter of the night on Thursday, giving him three goals in the last four as his line starts to round into better form. Offensively, though, this was another Bread show.

“It’s just the way he’s taken his goal-scoring to another level,” Zibanejad said. “Everyone knows how good of a passer he is. He’ll find guys when you didn’t think it was possible. But he’s shooting way more this season and it’s really paying off. He has a great shot so why not use it — he’s been big for us all year and the goals he scores in the second (on Thursday) are huge and really sets us up for the third period.”

Jonathan Quick was a standout again when called upon, especially in the first to keep it a 1-0 deficit. Quick tied Ryan Miller on Thursday at 391 wins, most by an American goaltender, and there should be at least a few more opportunities for Quick to get the record all for himself before this regular season ends.

Also standing out was a makeshift defense corps. Facing a second consecutive heavy, high-octane opponent, the group minus Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren, two of the heavy-game type of defensemen, was very strong. K’Andre Miller and Braden Schneider limited the breakdowns in major usage — Miller led the Rangers with 24:53 of ice time and Schneider got 21:17, the most he’s played in a game this season.

Adam Fox took a couple of penalties but he had the biggest goal of the night, responding to the Bruins’ tying score at 3:17 of the third with a perfectly placed wrist shot over Jeremy Swayman just 40 seconds later. This was also a good night for the supporting cast on defense — Zac Jones had another capable game and Chad Ruhwedel showed some big-game energy, throwing his body around and displaying a good touch on his skates.

“I thought the guys really hunkered down and played a heck of a game tonight,” Peter Laviolette said after coaching his 1,500th NHL game and getting his 798th win. “In the second and third, I thought we really locked it down with a smart game, and in the offensive zone we continued to hunt and find pucks. … For multiple games in a row I thought our back end was excellent.”

And then there’s Panarin. He leads all Rangers forwards in even-strength ice time and was over the boards any time Laviolette could get him out there on Thursday. His goals weren’t highlight-reel quality — even his first, off a broken play from a Schneider rush, was a wrister that snuck through Swayman’s pads — but it takes a goal-scorer to score the way he did on Thursday.

“I’m just trying to get him out there all the more and more, because you can just tell he’s creating every time he’s in the offensive zone,” Laviolette said. “A big, big game like this and he really stepped up. I thought everybody did. He’s going to get the noise around it because of the goals, but there were a lot of guys who played a heck of a game.”

(Photo of Artemi Panarin: Richard T Gagnon / Getty Images)

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