Rangers’ latest first line starting to gain ‘chemistry’

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The Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Vladimir Tarasenko unit, which is one of 11 first-line combinations the Rangers have deployed this season, skated together for the third straight game Thursday night in a 4-2 win over the Penguins at the Garden.

Shift by shift and game by game, the star-studded trio looks more and more like the Rangers’ No. 1 unit.

Thursday was just another game of getting a feel for one another and developing chemistry, but Panarin, Zibanejad and Tarasenko just seem to be putting it together quicker than most.

They had a hand in the Rangers’ first goal of the game, when Panarin banked a pass off the left boards to spring Zibanejad for a breakaway.

Zibanejad buried it with ease less than three minutes into the game to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

“I thought they were real good tonight, they were excellent,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “The chemistry is starting to connect a little bit.”

Mika Zibanejad (right) celebrates with teammate Vladimir Tarasenko during the first period of the Rangers' 4-2 win over the Penguins.Mika Zibanejad (right) celebrates with teammate Vladimir Tarasenko during the first period of the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Penguins. Robert Sabo for NY Post

When the Rangers first acquired Tarasenko, along with defenseman Niko Mikkola, from the Blues on Feb. 9, Gallant immediately put him together with Panarin and Zibanejad.

That was the starting point, but it only lasted two games as the Rangers scrambled to find combinations that clicked.

Chris Kreider, who scored twice in the third period Thursday, then replaced Panarin on the left side of Zibanejad and Tarasenko.

And Tarasenko was later bumped to the second line alongside Panarin and Vincent Trocheck.

After Patrick Kane came in, Tarasenko largely remained on the top line with Kreider and Zibanejad.

Gallant is now back at square one with the two Russian wings flanking the Rangers’ No. 1 center. It’s coming together much better this time around.

The most important move was separating Panarin and Kane, who seemed to be deferring to one another and in turn, playing to the east-west hockey in which the Rangers can get caught up.

Now that that’s out of the way, Panarin, Zibanejad and Tarasenko have stood out.

“It’s easy to play with Artemi and Mika,” Tarasenko said after the win. “Very good players. Play off each other’s games. We understand each other more, like where the guy will be so you don’t have to look around. I’m enjoying playing.”

The Rangers will have a day off on Friday before hosting the Penguins again Saturday night at the Garden.

They’ll have two more home games to wrap up their longest homestand of the season, in which they’ll host the Predators and Hurricanes.

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