Former Rangers defenseman scores shocking goal in Game 2 of Stanley Cup Final

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Niko Mikkola didn’t score much during his brief tenure with the New York Rangers. Then again, the 6-foot-5 stay-at-home defenseman has only 10 goals in nearly 300 NHL games, counting both the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But Mikkola sure picked a doozy of a time to score the biggest goal of his NHL career Monday night.

The 28-year-old shocked everyone when he scored for the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Edmonton Oilers. It was an absolute beauty and it was a clutch goal, too, tying the game 1-1 at 9:34 of the second period. Florida went on to win 4-1 and it now has a 2-0 series lead.

Well, maybe the Oilers shouldn’t have been shocked. Mikkola scored twice in a Nov. 20 game against them this season, so three of his five goals this season were against the Oilers.

Mikkola absolutely buried a slap shot off a drop pass by Anton Lundell off the rush on left wing, beating Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner low and to the glove-hand side. It was a goal-scorer’s goal, potted by a player who had one goal in 41 career playoff games entering Game 2 of the Final.

The former Blueshirt nearly was the goat, as opposed to the hero, for Florida earlier in the shift when he spun a backwards pass in his own end right on goal, where Sergei Bobrovsky made an alert stop. Mikkola was shaking his head after his miscue, coming that close to scoring an own goal and putting his team in a 2-0 hole.

Instead, he kept his composure, rejoined the play and scored the tying goal.

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Niko Mikkola played for Rangers, then helped eliminate them in 2024 playoffs

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers
Credit: Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Mikkola was traded to the Rangers along with Vladimir Tarasenko by the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 9, 2023, and played very well on the blue line for New York down the stretch of the 2022-23 season. He averaged 18:42 in ice time over 31 games with the Rangers, and had one goal and two assists. Mikkola added two assists in seven playoff games.

The Panthers signed Mikkola to a three-year, $7.5 million contract ($2.5 million average annual value) last offseason. He played all 82 games this season, averaged 20:02 in ice time and had an NHL career-high 17 points (three goals, 14 assists).

During the Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers, Mikkola had one assist against his former team. But he had a strong series with his physical play and with how quickly he consistently turned the puck the other way in transition, helping the Panthers end the Rangers season in six games.

In a bit of Blueshirt irony, Tarasenko, who scored the Game 6 winning goal against the Rangers, assisted on Mikkola’s goal Monday. Tarasenko is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and could be an option for a New York return in 2024-25.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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