The Rangers hoped their first three-day break in between games this season would be rejuvenating — and boy, did they look energized Friday night.
Stringing together that full 60-minute effort they’ve harped on through the beginning of the season, the Rangers handily beat the Blue Jackets 4-0 at Madison Square Garden in front of spirited crowd which included an array of first responders and essential workers who were honored in a pregame ceremony.
Chris Kreider scored two third-period goals, while Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox each had three assists and Igor Shesterkin had 28 saves in his first shutout since April.
The Rangers had a low bar to clear following a dud against the Flames earlier this week, but they skated with conviction and authority against Columbus. The Rangers only had one gear — overdrive — and the offense benefited greatly.
Panarin posted his first multi-point game of the season, dishing out three assists in his first game back with both Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko, who returned after a four-game stint on injured reserve with an undisclosed upper-body injury. With his 49th career three-point effort, Panarin is now tied with the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane for the third-most three-point games since 2015-16.
That second line combined for seven shots on goal as the Rangers racked up 37 in total.
Despite a slow start, the Rangers’ fourth line of Dryden Hunt, Greg McKegg and Kevin Rooney generated a couple of good shifts to get the team going. The Rangers then began to push the pace and open up the ice shortly after those at the Garden rose to their feet to give essential workers in attendance a well-deserved round of applause.
Panarin hit a streaking Strome, who banged the puck home for his first goal of the season and the 1-0 lead at 12:29. Rookie defenseman Nils Lundkvist registered the secondary assist on Strome’s goal for his first career NHL point.
Just over three minutes later, Fox strung together a brilliant sequence. The reigning Norris Trophy winner skated behind the net before somehow finding Alexis Lafreniere by the far goalpost for the 2-0 score. Both Lafreniere and linemate Sammy Blais pointed in Fox’s general direction in disbelief following the play.
At the end of each of the first two periods, Columbus took late penalties that allowed the Rangers to open the subsequent frame on the power play. It cost the Blue Jackets at the start of the third, when Kreider made it 3-0 with a tip-in off a feed from Panarin.
After Strome and the Blue Jackets’ Max Domi earned matching fighting penalties, Jake Bean was called for hooking to give the Rangers the 4-on-3 advantage. Kreider buried his second of the night, on another tip-in, to surpass Oilers star Connor McDavid for the most power-play goals in the NHL so far this season.