Rangers stars shine in season-saving win, force game seven.

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Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant may have said he liked the Rangers’ effort in game five, but the lineup he rolled out for game six proved otherwise. Looking to wake up an offense limited to two goals in the past three games, Tarasenko played on the top line with Kreider and Zibanejad. At the same time, Alexis Lafrenière skated alongside Vincent Trocheck and Patrick Kane.
Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant may have said he liked the Rangers’ effort in game five, but the lineup he rolled out for game six proved otherwise. Looking to wake up an offense limited to two goals in the past three games, Tarasenko played on the top line with Kreider and Zibanejad. At the same time, Alexis Lafrenière skated alongside Vincent Trocheck and Patrick Kane. /

But Gallant’s most surprising move was the demotion of Artemi Panarin to the third line with Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. It resulted in him seeing reduced minutes and was a sign the coach had lost trust in his top regular-season playmaker.

“Guys know they’re top players, and they’re not scoring,” he said before the game. It’s what it’s all about. You go to every series, and the team that’s probably losing right now, a lot of coaches and a lot of players, and a lot of teams are saying the same thing. We’ve got to get our top guys to score.”

The changes did get those top guys to perform, as they finally outmuscled New Jersey’s defenders to the inside and cashed in on their chances from the slot.

Shortly after Kreider tied it, the Devils took another penalty as time expired on the first period when Ondrej Palat was boxed twice in the span of 3:21. Although New Jersey killed off both of those penalties, it wore down their top players. It gave the Rangers the matchups they wanted when the teams returned to even strength.

It proved true when Kreider found himself with time and space behind the net and quickly fed Zibanejad, who roofed it over Schmid at the 10:10 mark of the second period, giving the Rangers the lead for good.

The tally was Zibanejad’s first of the postseason and provided a sense of relief for the team’s regular-season leading goal scorer. “I’m not going to sit here and lie and say it wasn’t a good feeling seeing the puck go in,” he said. “I wish I scored on every shot. This would be a really simple game, but it’s not. Obviously, playing with the guys I’m playing with, they just keep trusting me, and I keep trusting myself.”

Tarasenko had trouble with trust when he first arrived in New York after they acquired the Stanley Cup champion at the trade deadline from the ST Louis Blues. But ever since he’s settled in, Tarasenko’s raised his play, earning him a spot on the top line where he notched his third goal of the series. Akin to Zibanejad’s goal, the play began with the Ranger’s newly implemented 1-2-2 forecheck to match New Jersey’s 1-2-2 defense.

The overload on the strong side slowed the Devils’ speed when they tried to weave through the neutral zone and allowed the Rangers to skate into the offensive zone with numbers. After winning his puck battle with Micheal McLeod, Kreider found Tarasenko in the slot, whose top-shelf tally made it 3-1 with 1:35 left in the second period.

“I just try to do whatever these guys tell me,” Tarasenko said. “Let the coaches make the decisions, and then you just have to go out and play. This game was do or die.” However, despite being outsmarted, the Devils didn’t back down, peppered the Rangers’ net, and controlled puck possession in the first and third periods. But as he’s done all series, Shesterkin stood tall and stymied the speedy New Jersey attack.