Mika Zibanejad put aside self doubt to lead Rangers in the playoffs

mika zibanejad
Jun 5, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA;New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) looks on against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mika Zibanejad had an excellent regular season in 2021-22 for the New York Rangers with 81 points in 81 games. However, when the playoffs began he struggled out of the gate against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The team found themselves down in the series 3 games to 1, and Zibanejad had only 4 assists through four games. Meanwhile, his opposite center Sidney Crosby was on fire with 9 points.

Then it happened.

Jacob Trouba collided with Crosby midway through Game 5 and knocked him out for the remainder of that contest and Game 6. It was also a wake up call for Zibanejad, who registered 7 points in the final 2 games of the series to help the Rangers complete the comeback and advance to Round Two.

Zibanejad outscored Crosby 3 points to 1 in Game 7.

Mika Zibanejad sometimes forgets how good he is

mika zibanejad
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Blueshirts top center was kept off the scoresheet only six times through 20 games in the playoffs last season. He ended up leading the team in postseason scoring with 24 points (10G – 24A) despite not registering a single point in the final three games of the Eastern Conference Final.

“Once he stopped worrying about who he was playing against (Sidney Crosby) and decided to play his game he was awesome,” Gerard Gallant noted. “Mika shows too much respect to people sometimes and forgets how he good he is. That was the biggest step for him last year, knowing how important he was to our team.”

Zibanejad, 29, does it all for the Rangers as the #1 center, top PK pivot, and the shot everyone looks for on the first PP unit. For his career in New York which is entering its seventh season, he’s registered 363 points in 404 regular season contests.

“He’s probably the most competitive person I’ve ever met in my life,” Chris Kreider said. “He’s one of the best players in the league whether or not he believes it. Even when he’s not feeling his best, the impact he has on the game away from and on the puck is amazing.”

What separates Mika from many of the top offensive players in the NHL is his 200′ game and ability to play elite level hockey in any situation. It still confounds me that he has yet to get appropriate recognition for the Frank J. Selke Award which is awarded “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”

More importantly, he does what a #1 center is supposed to do in this league– make those around him better.

He makes Chris Kreider a better player, he makes his linemates better,” Gallant added. “He plays a game coaches want.”

Kreider, set a career-high in goals with 52 last season playing exclusively on Mika’s line. So if there’s anyone on the Rangers qualified to talk about Zibanejad’s play it’s him.

“He obviously gets a ton of attention from the other team and it’s heightened during the playoffs,” he explained. “That’s the guy you want to shut down and no one’s been able to shut him down yet.”

For Zibanejad, the excellent season and playoffs are behind him. While many felt it was a smashing success, the fierce competitor from Sweden doesn’t see it exactly that way.

“I don’t know if you can call it success” Zibanejad said. “We had a good run last year, but it makes me and the group eager to get back to work. It’s not a given to make it to the playoffs and that should be our first goal.”

The Rangers will open the 2022-23 season on October 11 at Madison Square Garden against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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