A Birthday win! Rangers claw Panthers in shootout 5-4

What would a birthday be without some hockey? Well, in my case, not as fun. The Rangers played on my birthday. This time, it came on the road that hasn’t been too friendly. They entered tonight’s match with only three wins in their first 13 away games. Naturally, all three were via the shootout.

Was it any surprise that the fourth road win came in the shootout by a score of 3-1 against a frustrated Roberto Luongo, who stormed off the ice following a Rangers 5-4 win in the skill competition? Of course not. It was amusing and confusing action with over 15,000 fans that included plenty of Rangers jerseys at BB&T Center.

For the Blueshirts, it was essential to come away with the second point. Something Henrik Lundqvist touched on in a fascinating postgame. He really is a great team guy, who takes responsibility when he feels he let in a couple of bad goals. I didn’t view it that way. Besides, he more than made up for it in a lopsided overtime that looked like a cardinal copy of what Winnipeg did last weekend. The only difference is all three Rangers shooters torched Luongo to end a three-game losing streak.

It wasn’t a Picasso or Renoir. That’s okay. We have to be patient and understand that this is a young team that will make mistakes. In some games, they can overcome them. In others, not as much. I know coach David Quinn will point out the mistakes to his team. Especially the two bad penalties by vets Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad, which resulted in predictable power play goals from one of the best scoring opponents on the man-advantage. If Florida had a better defensive system under second-year coach Bob Boughner, they would be much better.

Look at who the skill they boast in goalscorer Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov. Keith Yandle picked the Ranger penalty kill apart recording a power play goal and power play assist. He had a great game, finishing with a goal and two assists. Huberdeau recorded his seventh multi-point game, going 1-2-3. Hoffman had two helpers and both Barkov and Aaron Ekblad tallied. So, every key player for the Cats got on the score sheet.

The Rangers took a quick 2-0 lead on goals from Zibanejad and Vladislav Namestnikov. Zibanejad was able to get to a rebound of a Kevin Hayes shot that Jimmy Vesey got a piece of for his ninth. With Chris Kreider off for a head scratching offensive zone minor for interference, it was the penalty kill that delivered. Following a Fredrik Claesson clear, Hayes outhustled and out-muscled Barkov to feed Namestnikov in front for the team’s seventh shorthanded goal. Only Namestnikov’s third of the season. But he has worked hard and made a nice forehand deke for his first career shorthanded goal past Luongo.

After playing a superb first period limiting the Panthers to seven shots, the Rangers reverted in a dreadful second. Florida has been a good second period club, scoring and giving up a lot of goals. An indication of why they’re mediocre. They can score if you open the door. A Staal interference minor 11 seconds into the second opened it up. It took the Cats only 46 seconds to score on the power play. A Yandle shot from the right point beat Lundqvist with Barkov in front. I thought he may have tipped it, but Yandle got it. He leads the league in power play points. Do you think our former coach realizes how badly he misused him?

A few minutes later, Huberdeau tied the game with his eighth from Yandle. They took advantage of a Zibanejad mistake. However, the Rangers came back 2:14 later to retake the lead thanks to some excellent work in front from Matt Beleskey. After Brady Skjei took a Tony DeAngelo pass, he didn’t hesitate to shoot the puck, which Beleskey redirected for his first of the season in just his second game. Superb job by him. The fourth line had some strong shifts. Beleskey definitely earned another game. Steven Fogarty was solid too. Lias Andersson was okay.

Before the period concluded, a very bad Skjei turnover allowed the Cats to tie it at three. Ekblad converted his seventh from Huberdeau and Dadonov at 18:20. DeAngelo went down and that didn’t prevent the pass across for the easy Ekblad goal. Frustrating in a bad period that saw Florida outshoot the Rangers 13-5. They outscored them 3-1.

Claesson scored unassisted early in the third to give them another lead. But they couldn’t hold it. On their fourth power play with Zibanejad off for tripping Huberdeau, Florida spread it out. After working the puck around for seemingly ever, they tired the four Ranger penalty killers out. Hoffman and Yandle combined to feed Barkov in the slot. He stepped out and drove a snapshot past Lundqvist that went high glove, inside the goalpost. He used Neal Pionk as a screen too with the puck changing direction for his 11th on the power play with 9:09 left in regulation.

There really wasn’t much in terms of offense the rest of the period. The Rangers only mustered 10 shots in the final 40 minutes after getting a dozen in the first. That won’t get it done. They were lucky to take it to three-on-three and even luckier to win in the shootout.

If not for some amazing saves by an acrobatic Lundqvist, they never have the opportunity to steal the extra point. Florida’s skilled skaters overwhelmed them until the near end. Namestnikov thought he won it with over 11 seconds remaining, but it was clear as day that as he took the puck to the net, it went in off his glove. Well, it was clear to everyone in the arena except Joe Michelleti. LMAO he may want to try out a new pair of glasses.

So, it went to the skill competition. In it, the Rangers shooters knew that Luongo would expect their usual moves. Both Zibanejad and Kevin Shattenkirk changed it up to catch Luongo by surprise. Instead of deking and going forehand high glove, Zibanejad went backhand instead for an easy goal in the top of the first. Following a Barkov miss, Shattenkirk beat Luongo with a wrist shot low instead of deking. After Huberdeau extended it by going five-hole on Lundqvist, Hayes put on a series of fakes before tucking home a forehand to leave Luongo irate.

Game. Set. Match. The Rangers improved to 14-12-3 with 31 points. They still only have nine wins in regulation or overtime. But they remain a pleasant surprise due to being relentless. It might not always be pretty, but it doesn’t have to be.


3rd 🌟 Keith Yandle, Panthers (5th of season, 2 helpers against former team)

2nd 🌟 Kevin Hayes, Rangers (2 assists plus the shootout clincher in another good game while shifting to the wing on the top line)

1st 🌟 Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers (11th goal, 2 assists giving him 17 points over his last 8 games)

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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