Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad breaks out of slump with NHL-record-tying outburst
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When an upper-echelon player’s production is so far off the pale around the midway mark of a season, the advice for him is to forget about chasing numbers because when it’s all said and done, the stats just are not going to line up.
But along comes the second period of a hockey game at the Garden on Wednesday night and Mika Zibanejad would beg to differ.
Because after eight weeks wandering through the wasteland, Zibanejad exploded for three goals and three assists in the Rangers’ seven-goal outburst in the middle 20 minutes of a smashing 9-0 victory over the Flyers to tie the NHL record for points in a period established by Bryan Trottier against the Blueshirts on Dec. 23, 1978.
It was a throwback performance for Zibanejad, harkening back to his five-goal extravaganza against the Capitals at MSG last March 5, which represented the zenith of a 41-goal, 75-point season (in no more than 57 games, no less) that had him on the precipice of above-the-title stature.
But then came this season. Then came the offseason challenges of training in a pandemic. Then came COVID-19 that struck in early January and cost Zibanejad the first week of training camp.
Then came a season in which the 27-year-old Swede looked like he’d hardly ever been on skates before; a pointed 10-minute benching in New Jersey on March 4; and the first 27 games, in which he recorded a total of three goals and eight assists. Even recently, while the center’s game had improved, there had been one goal (and six assists) over the previous eight games.
Then, Wednesday night.
“Obviously it hasn’t been maybe what everyone expected, including me obviously, but I’ve been trying to just work and trust myself,” said Zibanejad, who scored a shorthanded goal, a power-play goal and a five-on-five goal during the second-period outburst. “For the past week or so, I’ve been feeling better in my game and have been getting a lot of support and all the help I need from the guys on the ice.”
Zibanejad scored the Blueshirts’ sixth, seventh and eighth goals, all against relief goaltender Carter Hart. He scored a breakaway shortie off a deke to the forehand at 8:27, went up top from in close on the power play at 14:29 and then completed the trick by driving to the net from the right side to finish a give-and-go with Chris Kreider at 18:37.
“I’ve been just trying to get myself through this. It hasn’t been easy. It is what it is,” Zibanejad said. “But it’s one game. Overall, I’ve been feeling a little bit better the past little bit here. Obviously production is a big part of it.”
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