Rangers respond by clawing Panthers 4-2

Mats Zuccarello

Mats Zuccarello gets congratulated by Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider following his power play goal during the Rangers’ 4-2 home win over the Panthers. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II/Getty Images

Following Saturday’s embarrassment, the Rangers responded by clawing the Panthers 4-2 at MSG tonight. The win snapped a two-game losing streak, moving them back into sole possession of second place in the Metro Division. With the Penguins idle, they moved two points up. With nine games left in the regular season, they have 90 points. Pittsburgh has 88. Coupled with an Islanders’ 4-1 home loss to the Flyers, they remained five points clear of the first wildcard.

For almost two periods, the Blueshirts controlled much of the play. They outscored the Panthers 2-0 and out-shot them 23-12. Florida also came in off a bad home loss to Detroit over the weekend in which they allowed four unanswered goals in a 5-3 loss.

It was exclusively the home team in a dominant first. They only gave up three shots. Playing stronger defensively, they got the lone goal of the period from Viktor Stalberg. Forcing a neutral zone turnover, he stole the puck from Jaromir Jagr and worked a give-and-go with Dominic Moore that resulted in Stalberg finishing off a nice Moore feed to beat Panthers’ goalie Al Montoya. The former Rangers ’04 first round pick got the start over a slumping Roberto Luongo. He was superb throughout finishing with 28 saves.

If not for Montoya’s acrobatics, it easily could’ve been two or three after the first. Vincent Trocheck’s second consecutive minor penalty early in the second allowed the Rangers to go up by two. Taking full advantage, Mats Zuccarello took a Brassard feed in between three Panther penalty killers and let go of a wrist shot that beat Montoya top shelf at 3:33. The goal was Zuccarello’s first in six. He has a career high 23. The point was his 54th. Five shy of his career best 59 established in ’13-14.

Buoyed by their catalyst, the Rangers continued to press the attack. They forced Montoya into some difficult stops. He turned aside 14 of 15 shots in a busy second stanza. While his teammates didn’t offer much support, a big hit by defenseman Steve Kampfer on Tanner Glass drew the ire of Brassard. Kampfer caught Glass with a clean check at his own blueline knocking him down. Brassard engaged Kampfer leading to matching minors for “Delay of game.” It was basically matching roughs.

On the ensuing four-on-four, J.T. Miller nearly set up a third goal but his pass for Zuccarello missed connection. At that point, the Rangers could’ve been up by four or five. Instead, Montoya kept it close giving his team a chance. The Panthers finally came on towards the end of the period forcing Henrik Lundqvist to make some saves. He bailed out Marc Staal after a giveaway led to a dangerous Trocheck chance in front. On one attempt, his shot went off the post. Fiery Panthers coach Gerard Gallant fumed at the refs. He had steam coming out all game.

Then came the third. As everyone knows, the Rangers are no longer a lock down team. They have had their struggles. Right away, the Panthers came out and attacked. They nearly got their first goal a couple of minutes in but the officials made the right call denying Kampfer’s baseball bat swing due to a high stick. It went to video review and they were unable to determine enough conclusive evidence to overturn the call on the ice.

With the Rangers back in a shell, Florida suddenly dominated the puck possession getting plenty of chances. They kept most of the Panthers’ shots to the outside. But on a rush, Trocheck beat Keith Yandle to the spot deflecting home a Jussi Jokinen feed for his 23rd cutting it to 2-1 with 13:09 remaining. There wasn’t much backchecking from Brassard or Rick Nash. Dan Girardi was up high leaving Yandle to take Trocheck, who got inside position.

It got dicey with Jonathan Huberdeau off for hi-sticking Chris Kreider. Gallant even protested that even though the replay proved otherwise. Be that as it may, Jokinen got away with one on Derek Stepan for a dangerous shorthanded chance that was thwarted by Lundqvist. Clearly hooking Stepan off the puck, he broke in looking for the equalizer. But Lundqvist stayed with him getting a piece of his point blank shot to keep the Rangers ahead. Had the Panthers scored there, that would’ve been some argument.

Instead, Nash finally got his first goal since returning. Right as the power play expired, he took a beautiful Kevin Klein feed and one-timed the puck past Montoya. They took advantage of a bad turnover from Teddy Purcell. He panicked with the puck due to a Zuccarello forecheck handing it right to Klein, who threaded the needle to Nash for a huge goal. That restored a two-goal lead with 8:46 left.

It proved to be the winner. The Panthers were able to score on a late power play with under a minute left. Deadline pickup Jiri Hudler snapped home his 14th from Purcell and Dmitry Kulikov at 19:24. Kulikov was able to stay in the game after taking a Yandle shot up high.

Florida was unable to get anything in the final 36 seconds. Alain Vigneault went with his fourth line. They were good again. Glass got rewarded for his effort scoring into an open net with nine seconds left. Klein drew the only assist. Glass had an earlier chance but pushed a Stalberg rebound wide. That’s four straight good games from the trio of Glass, Dominic Moore and Stalberg. Give Vigneault credit for moving Stalberg down. It’s clicked.

Battle Of NY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Al Montoya, FLA (28 saves incl. 21/23 first 2 periods)

2nd Star-Kevin Klein, NYR (2 assists, 2 blocked shots, +2 in 27 shifts-19:21)

1st Star-Viktor Stalberg, NYR (goal-9th of season, 4 SOG, 6 attempts, +1 in 19 shifts-11:48)

Notes: Oscar Lindberg was a healthy scratch for the fourth consecutive game. … Recognizing a legendary player who was responsible along with Lundqvist for their revival post-lockout, the Rangers honored Jaromir Jagr with a video tribute for him moving up to third all-time in scoring with 1,857 points (746-1111-1857). Jagr spent over three seasons as a Blueshirt totaling 124 goals and 195 assists for 319 points. … Nash’s goal was his first of the calendar year. His last came on 12/30. … Lundqvist made 25 saves to win for the first time since Feb. 27. … Kevin Hayes only took 14 shifts (9:58). … Rangers (41-24-8, 90) host Bruins Wednesday before visiting Canadiens Saturday. Then return to MSG for Pens Sunday.

Key Stat: Faceoffs Fla-21 NYR-35 (Moore 9-and-4, Stepan 9-and-6, Brassard 11-and-8, E. Staal 5-and-2)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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