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Panarin collects five points as surging Rangers race past reeling Penguins 7-4

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Artemi Panarin isn't ready to consider if this is the finest season of his nine-year career.

It looks as if he is going to answer the question on the ice anyway. By the time he gets to game No. 82, there could be no doubt.

Panarin had two goals and three assists, helping the New York Rangers zoom past the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 7-4 victory on Saturday.

The 32-year-old Panarin upped his total to 500 career assists. He has 93 points this season, becoming the first player in the franchise's 97-year history to reach at least 90 points for three straight years. The Russian star's first 100-point season is well within reach with 15 games remaining.

“No. I don’t think about (if this is my best season), or I don’t try,” Panarin said. “Maybe I think about it after the season, about those things. Never in the season.”

Chris Kreider had a goal and two assists in his 800th career game. K'Andre Miller also had a goal and two assists for the Rangers, who have won four of five to create a sliver of space between themselves and Carolina in the race for first in the Metropolitan Division.

“We knew (the Penguins) were going to come out and have a push,” Miller said. "Obviously, they’re still fighting for a playoff spot. So they came out strong. I thought we did a good job of responding.”

Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko also scored for New York. Jonathan Quick made 34 saves to win for the sixth time in his last seven starts.

“This is stuff we’ve been doing all year, right?” Quick said. "This is nothing new that we did today that we haven’t been doing. These guys, they battle hard.”

Bryan Rust scored his 20th goal of the season for the Penguins. John Ludvig, Lars Eller and Valtteri Puustinen also scored.

Tristan Jarry stopped 17 shots before he was pulled after Miller's eighth goal of the season gave the Rangers a 6-3 lead 4:41 into the third period.

The Penguins have dropped eight of 10. They are in danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight season after running off 16 consecutive postseason berths between 2007-22.

Perhaps most troubling, the solid goaltending and mindful defense that has kept them on the fringe of contention most of the year is starting to evaporate. Pittsburgh has allowed at least four goals five times during its swoon.

“It's a little bit of everything,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said, later adding, "I thought a lot of the game we were pretty good 5 on 5. ... They were opportunistic with chances and they finished (them).”

Pittsburgh came in hoping a win over lowly San Jose on Thursday would provide a boost. Instead, the Penguins spent most of the game trying and failing to match New York's speed.

Kakko and Fox scored 26 seconds apart in the first period to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Fox's goal symbolized the quality scoring chances in deep that New York created with alarming regularity, taking a feed from Panarin in the right circle and skating freely to the front of the net before flipping a backhand by Jarry.

Panarin's first goal in the later stages of the first came off a brilliant saucer pass from Vincent Trocheck, who flipped the puck over a diving Ryan Graves and right to Panarin's stick. Panarin redirected the pass past Jarry to make it 3-2.

Pittsburgh tied it at 3 just past the game's midway point, on a power-play goal by Eller off a slick feed by Michael Bunting.

New York took control for good late in the second when Panarin and Zibanejad scored power-play goals just over a minute apart. Panarin pounced on a rebound for his 21st of the season, and Zibanejad found himself all alone right in front of Jarry at the end of a tic-tac-toe sequence to push it to 5-3.

UP NEXT

Rangers: Meet the rival New York Islanders on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Penguins: Host Detroit on Sunday.

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AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL