Frustration, Elation and Damnation: Rangers waste comeback in frustrating 5-4 loss to Panthers


Chris Kreider stands over James Reimer. He scored twice and had a asssist in a dominant performance despite the Rangers falling short to the Panthers 5-4 at MSG. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy The Herald 

This is one they may look back on if the playoff race does go down to the final week. In all likelihood, it’s gonna. With the Metro Division very tight, the Rangers hope a gut wrenching 5-4 loss to the Panthers on home ice won’t cost them.

Ultimately, it was a disappointing result considering how much they exhausted coming back from two three-goal deficits. Especially against a bad opponent who was clearly on fumes in the second game of a back to back. It should’ve been a win. Case closed.

Instead, the Rangers had their eight-game home winning streak end due to too many breakdowns. They outshot and outattempted the Panthers and outplayed them. But it didn’t matter. They were their own worst enemy. Done in by glaring mistakes that finally caught up following a few imperfect wins where Henrik Lundqvist bailed them out.

Another slow start put them behind by three after a bad first period. The Panthers scored three times on six shots chasing Lundqvist before the period was out. Yes. Ondrej Pavelec made a rare appearance. He was fine but couldn’t make that final stop on Denis Malgin with 1:09 left in regulation. Another household name who victimized the Rangers.

In a bizarre game where Michael Haley scored a goal and not a knockout, the Blueshirts dug themselves a hole with inconsistent play. They allowed a power play goal to Aleksander Barkov on a odd tip of a Jonathan Huberdeau shot that took a funny hop over Lundqvist.

After a big saves from James Reimer, Jamie McGinn went high glove on Lundqvist from Nick Bjugstad. It came off a sloppy turnover. One of many in a brutal first.

The Rangers had stretches where they controlled play in the Florida end but Reimer made a couple of more huge stops including getting a piece of a point blank opportunity with his glove. It was Haley who was allowed to skate in like he was a skill guy before he beat Lundqvist at 16:47 to end his night. He’s been so great lately that it’s hard to fault him. Maybe he could’ve had one of the three. He’s been starting every game due to the schedule and Alain Vigneault reluctant to use the backup.

Anyone with a pulse knew the game wasn’t over. The Panthers are a bad hockey team. They pulled the same dog and pony act at Newark Monday. They’re not good at protecting leads and poor defensively. Roberto Luongo wasn’t in net. Reimer played well. He had to.

J.T. Miller got the Rangers on the board early in the second when he was able to get to a deflected Mats Zuccarello shot and fire his fourth past Reimer at 4:04. His play at center is continuing to improve. There’s no reason to switch him back to wing. He’s found chemistry with Zuccarello and Michael Grabner.

Before they made the full comeback, a bad shift from Nick Holden resulted in Huberdeau getting two whacks at a Mike Matheson rebound past a outstretched Pavelec to restore a three goal lead for Florida.

On the next shift, Chris Kreider started his big night by holding the puck behind the net, skating out and finding  cutting Pavel Buchnevich for a slam dunk that cut it to 4-2 at 9:26 from David Desharnais. To his credit, he played well recording three assists centering the top line in place of injured center Mika Zibanejad. He suffered a upper body injury in warmups. Vigneault said he would have a update tomorrow.

A couple of minutes later, it was that trio which combined for another beauty with Desharnais working the puck to Buchnevich, who made a bullet pass across for a Kreider tip in at 11:16 which cut the deficit to one. Every shift Kreider took was exciting with the power forward using all his tools. He played arguably the best game of his career recording two goals and a assist while playing defensively responsible. He was terrific.

The line of Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash were a force. They controlled long shifts and forced Reimer into some difficult stops. All three skated with purpose while getting good shots through and dangerous chances. Hayes had a apparent tying goal offset by a goalie interference call on Nash for bumping into Reimer. It was controversial with Nash bumped. There wasn’t much room. His skate contacted Reimer as Hayes skated circles around the Florida D and beat the Panthers goalie. But it was waived off. Vigneault did the right thing challenging but of course it was not overturned. Gotta love Toronto. Where nobody knows what is goalie interference anymore. Similar to what’s a catch in the NFL.

With it being my third game, the crowd booed the decision and chanted, “These refs suck!” This was a more lively crowd than most games at MSG. They didn’t sell it out. But the fans were into it. It was a good atmosphere.

Even though Florida was clinging to a 4-3 lead after two, you knew it was a matter of time before the Rangers tied it. The Panthers were in a conservative defensive shell. It’s no wonder they’re struggling to win under Bob Boughner.

The play of Vesey with Hayes and Nash in the third was dominant. He skated circles around Florida on some extended shifts. They just didn’t have any puck luck. They were splendid 5 on 5. Vesey was so good, he drew a penalty. He looks on the verge of breaking out. Keep him with Hayes and Nash.

After a bogus interference call on Kreider for being bigger and stronger, they missed one call on Florida but got them for tripping making it even up. There were Bronx cheers.

They still hadn’t beaten Reimer, who did his best Houdini act to keep his team in front. Eventually, another jaw dropping moment from Buchnevich and Kreider tied the game. On a rush, Buchnevich centered for Kreider, who buried his second of the game to tie the score at four with 6:32 left. Kreider is suddenly up to 10 goals. He gets them in bunches. This is the most confident he’s ever looked. Maybe 30 goals and 60 points finally happen.

As well as they played offensively and with puck possession, the Rangers couldn’t avoid the crucial mistake. Pavelec fought the puck when it was tied struggling to cover up a couple of routine saves. That was worrisome.

With 90 seconds left, Vigneault had the top line out. For some reason, Holden and Brendan Smith were the D pair. It made no sense. Granted. Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk played a lot. But that late in a tie game with a lot riding, you better have your best pair out. They didn’t and got burned.

Smith fumbled a puck failing to keep it in. He also fell down. This indirectly caused the Florida goal. A Holden giveaway cost them with Malgin left alone on the off wing to bury a Mark Pysyk pass across for the game-winner at 18:51 to collective groans.

Even with Pavelec pulled for a extra attacker, the Rangers had trouble getting out of their zone and teased us by making a couple of saves to keep the game alive. They didn’t get it done.

It was a missed opportunity.

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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