SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 30: Stu Bickel #41 of the New York Rangers assists goaltender Henrik Lundqvist #30 defend the net against the Florida Panthers on December 30, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
How exactly do you classify a loss like the one tonight? On one hand, winning is a lost cause when a team goes down 2-0 in the first five minute and 3-0 as the period ends, but on the other hand the home team had nothing to counter with as the game went sour. Chalk it up to a speedbump along the road or playing the best team in the league entering a big game, the Florida Panthers just didn't have what it took to defeat the New York Rangers. Florida just wasn't ready for the game, and the Rangers most certainly were.
With the Panthers' cushy divisional lead suddenly slipping away and injuries still handicapping the team, all signs point to panic. Dineen and his players know better than that however, even in a 4-1 defeat the team kept it competitive or at least out of the realm of a blowout. Tomorrows game is of obvious importance, but at some point the Panthers just need to settle down and take it a period at a time to weather this streak of sub-par performances.
1st: Henrik Lundqvist and Scott Clemmensen would mind the nets for their respective teams in Sunrise. 35 seconds in, Clemmensen's GAA would go astronomical as Carl Hagelin would sink the first shot of the game, assists to Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh. Not exactly a great way to start the game, as you might infer. It wasn't as if the Panthers were playing badly, Florida was putting shots on Lundqvist from all all angles between goals. Yes, goals. Brad Richards would flash that skill that netted him big money last July by seemingly scoring at will from the top of the circles, assist to Jeff Woywitka. As if things weren't bad enough, Marian Gaborik would be sent in on a breakaway, but Clemmensen would turn away his shot to keep the deficit at two. The Rangers would take a holding penalty, Michael Del Zotto in the box. The Panthers would send lots of quality shots in, but Lundqvist would steer them all aside. Del Zotto wouldn't be done there, minutes later he'd send a perfect shot from inside the point easily beating Clemmensen, assist to Richards and Hagelin. Clemmer out, Jose Theodore in. Callahan would welcome Theodore to the ice by running into him, earning a goaltender interference penalty. Again, the Panthers would do everything right except find a hole in Lundqvist, ending the period 3-0.
2nd: As if this game wasn't going badly enough, 8 minutes of nothing from the Panthers would be capped by Brandon Dubinsky leisurely skating around Kris Versteeg and sinking his fourth of the year, extending the lead to 4-0. Well, I suppose at some point the boys in red needed to get something going. A suddenly offensively-gifted Matt Bradley would take a nice pass from Erik Gudbranson and backhand a goal stickside past Lundqvist to avoid the goose egg. After the goal, Florida would be continually buzzing around the net creating chances but the Rangers defense never collapsed. Tomas Kopecky would take a tripping call giving the Rangers a chance on the powerplay, which would be killed rather effectively. Shawn Matthias and Tomas Fleischmann would have good chances towards the end, the second frame would close out 4-1.
3rd: Five minutes in, Derek Stepan would take a penalty after he tripped up Fleischmann, but the resulting powerplay wouldn't accomplish much. Despite the Rangers coasting a bit (probably looking on to the Winter Classic game) the Cats had nothing left in the tank offense-wise. Not exactly known for their defense (especially with arguably their best defenseman Marc Staal still on the IR) simply shut the game down after the midway point of the game. A tip of the hat to Kevin Dineen who pulled Theodore with two minutes left and down by three goals. Ever the optimist, that Dineen. Some meaningless goonery at the end from both teams would finalize the game. Rangers win, 4-1.
- Clemmensen has taken a lot of heat this season for soft goals, and I contend that most of it hasn't been earned until tonight. A goalie can't sink his team that early. And often. Despite his lame 16 minute outing, he did make 11 saves. The Cats have mustered 4 goals against him in 3 games.
- Henrik Lundqvist must have some kinda grudge against the Panthers, not only has he been a stone wall against Florida this year, but his entire career too.
- Bradley and Gudbranson are probably the two best Panthers of late.
- Fresh off his contract extension, Weaver was a -4. Gudbranson and Ed Jovanovski were +1.
- Amazing stat of the night: Florida out-hit the Rangers (a miracle in itself) by a count of 43-35, Bradley leading the way with 9 of his own. I wouldn't mind seeing that kind of effort more often.
- Honestly, there isn't much else to say. The Panthers played well for the most part but shaky goaltending early was the difference in this one. After going up 4-0, the Rangers just mailed it in. Lundqvist held steady, the Panthers skated through cement.
Up Next: Operation Invade Sunrise, minus one French Canadian prospect drafted 3rd overall this summer. As I like to say,"Them Canadiens", 7 EST.