On very rare occasions there are nights in the National Hockey League when everything you touch turns into goals.
And that must have been what Mika Zibanejad and his teammates were sensing Thursday when he scored five of them to help the New York Rangers beat the Washington Capitals 6-5 in overtime at Madison Square Garden.
“Anyone who was here tonight will never forget it,” Garden CEO Jim Dolan told The New York Post after congratulating Zibanejad at his locker. “A special night, right?”
Right. And as you might have guessed, it was Zibanejad whose scored the game-winner just 33 seconds into the extra period on a beautiful breakaway.
“The puck followed me today, I guess,” Zibanejad told the media after the game. “You look at the goals and it’s unbelievable plays being made and today I was at the right spot at the right time. It’s a night I’ll remember for a long time.
According to the Associated Press, Zibanejad is just second player in NHL history to score his fifth goal in OT, joining Detroit’s Sergei Fedorov. He’s also the first Rangers center to score at least 35 goals (he has 38) since Eric Lindros did it in 2001-02.
“A beautiful player,” Artemi Panarin told The Athletic. “I don’t know what I can say. So much talent. He has everything. He can score, he can pass, he can play in the D-zone, O-zone, everywhere. And good guy. (That’s most) important for me.”
Zibanejad, who is just 26 years old, couldn’t have picked a more important game to tie the team’s record for most goals in a game – he joins Don Murdoch (Oct. 12, 1976) and Mark Pavelich (Feb. 23, 1983) as Rangers with five goals in a game.
The Rangers had lost three straight and the win moved them just two points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. With 15 games remaining, the Rangers hold all the relevant tiebreakers.
“Going forward here, every game is going to be the biggest game of our season,” Zibanejad said.
Zibanejad has 14 goals in his past 10 games with six assists. He has 27 goals and 47 points in his last 33 games.
“It feels like the moment is never too big for him and that’s a rare asset in this league,” Rangers Ryan Strome told the New York Post. “He thrives on it.
“He wants the puck on his stick, he knows how good he is, and the best part about it is that he’ll come to the rink tomorrow and be humble, put his head down and go to work. It was just a real special night and if you looked at our faces after he scored the last goal, we were just in awe of him.”
Rangers coach David Quinn has said many times this season how grateful he’s been for Zibanejad. He’s one of the most popular players on the team and his teammates mobbed him when he walked into the locker room after his performance.
“You’d be hard-pressed to match that,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “You know, early on he gets the hat trick and he just doesn’t stop. You all know how we feel about him as a staff and what a fantastic player he is and what a fantastic person he is.
“You just sit back and watch and enjoy it, because it was a special night in so many ways for him, and for us, obviously, to win a game of that magnitude with the ebbs and flows to it. It was a special night, not just for Mika, but for all of us to be part of it with him.”