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The only unknown was playoff experience and the ability to win on the biggest stage. They certainly have that now to go with a generous dose of confidence.
Gallant had faith in Panarin, saying after the game that he had a feeling the Russian forward, despite not standing out earlier in the game, would come through. And he did, with only nine seconds remaining on the power play. Panarin took the puck from Adam Fox at the top of the right face-off circle, skated a few paces toward goal and then fired off his right foot, beating Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry on the short side through a screen, and unleashing a wild celebration on the ice and in the stands.
“Honestly, they’ve been letting me shoot since the first game,” Panarin said through an interpreter. “My bad, I haven’t really been making those shots. But maybe I should listen to everyone’s advice now and actually get out there and take shots.”
The tying goal came with 5:45 remaining in the third period after a play that angered Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan. Pittsburgh’s Marcus Pettersson lost his helmet behind the Penguins’ goal after getting tangled up with Rangers forward Alexis Lafrenière, and by rule Pettersson had to either find his helmet and put it back on or leave the ice for safety reasons. Pettersson headed toward the bench.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, took Petterson’s place, but he skated to the net, in front of Jarry, and was not in a position to challenge Zibanejad’s shot. And if Pettersson had been on the ice, he might have helped the Penguins clear the puck. Sullivan, not surprisingly, is not a fan of the rule.
“I think it stinks,” he said. “He has to come off. His helmet got pulled off intentionally, but that’s the rule.”
For the Penguins, who were in the playoffs for the 16th straight year, the loss was especially difficult to bear because it could be the last season of their longtime core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang playing together. The latter two can be free agents and sign with other teams.