Alex Wennberg, Rangers' unlikely Game 3 hero, rises to occasion in pivotal OT win at Panthers

So maybe the Rangers shouldn’t have won Game 3 on Sunday. Maybe they stole one in Florida, what with the way the Panthers swarmed throughout the third period and exerted hellacious pressure on Igor Shesterkin as they clawed back from a two-goal deficit.

But thanks to an overtime goal from Alex Wennberg, the Rangers did win, taking a 5-4 decision that gave them a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Wennberg, who scored just one goal for the Rangers after coming over in a deal near the trade deadline, might profile as an unlikely hero. But the rise of such players in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is another in myriad reasons why playoff hockey is such catnip, right?

Years from now, if the rest of these playoffs go the way the Rangers hope, we’ll still be talking about the time Wennberg deflected a shot by Ryan Lindgren past Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky with 5:35 gone in overtime. Unlikely hero seals unlikely victory, helps fuel epic run.

“Obviously, it just worked about perfectly,” Wennberg said at a postgame press conference in Sunrise, Fla. “I feel like I end up being alone there and get a little touch. What can I say. ... Every now and then you go by instincts. It’s just a great shot by Lindy.

“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to find a way to score.”

All through the playoffs, the Rangers have gotten remarkable contributions from players who aren’t exactly household names.

Witness the rise of Barclay Goodrow, who followed up his OT winner in Game 2 with two goals, including one shorthanded, in Game 3. Goodrow has six goals in the playoffs after having four all season long. Huh?

Wennberg doubled his Blueshirt total with the one on Sunday. Before that, he last scored on March 19. In 19 games as a Ranger during the regular season, he had one goal and four assists.

Overall this year, in 79 games between Broadway and Seattle, Wennberg had 10 goals and 20 assists. In the Rangers’ first 12 playoff games, he had just one assist.

In fairness to the 29-year-old Wennberg, he’s counted on less for firepower than he is for slowing down opposing skaters. He’s a defensive center, perfect for the third line. The Rangers have plenty of other high-flying, high-scoring skaters they rely on to trigger the red lamp.

If that’s not Wennberg’s prime directive, that’s OK.

May 26, 2024; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (91) reacts after a game winning goal by New York Rangers center Alex Wennberg (91) during overtime in game three of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amerant Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

He’s still valuable, Rangers coach Peter Laviolette stressed.

Wennberg has brought “really good work in all zones,” the coach said. “Really smart player. He’s come in and given us exactly what we needed at the time and what we were hoping for.”

He did it again Sunday, this time with scoring. He was alone in front of Bobrovsky when Lindgren unleashed a shot and Wennberg’s redirection went in, setting off a celebration.

“Maybe there was some sort of a breakdown -- he was by himself,” Laviolette said. “You still have to get a piece of it, a redirect. He was in a good spot for a screen, a redirect, everything, and was able to get it done.”

Here’s how Wennberg described the feeling: “It’s amazing. Obviously, it’s an intense game, it goes back and forth. You see the puck go to the net, it’s just, burst of energy, burst of all kinds of feelings. It’s great, obviously.”

Wennberg was in the right place and did the right thing when the Rangers desperately needed it, against a surging, dangerous opponent. With Matthew Tkachuk and friends zooming around the ice, pushing for a dagger goal, it was Wennberg who got it.

Not his Ranger teammates, the big-name stars who usually show up on the scoresheet. Maybe that just makes the Rangers more lethal, that a Wennberg can have such an impact on a pivotal game.

Some of those big-name Rangers are having a hard time getting going in this series. Three of them -- Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, who scored the most, second-most and fourth-most goals on the team during the season -- haven’t scored a goal in this series.

But delving into who didn’t deliver is a column of a very different kind. This one is about a guy, Wennberg, who grabbed the moment.

Maybe it ends up being just one moment in time, a nice memory for a nice player.

Or maybe it ends up being one of the bigger moments in the biggest thing in New York hockey in, oh, 30 years.