The Florida Panthers overcame another lousy first period to outplay the New York Rangers over the final forty minutes, but couldn't find the back of the net enough in a 2-1 loss that made their playoff aspirations seem that much more unlikely.
Cam Talbot stopped 38 of 39 shots to outduel Dan Ellis, who finished with 32 saves in his fifth straight in place of regular netminders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya.
The Rangers had the better of the play in the first, doubling the Cats in shots 12-6, and came up with the period's only goal when James Sheppard tapped in his first goal as a Ranger to finish off Dominic Moore's deflection of Matt Hunwick's pass from the point.
Florida came out like a team possessed in the second stanza, strafing Talbot with an astounding 20 shots. The young goaltender, who is now 13-2-3 since number one Henrik Lundqvist went down, was up to the task. Talbot made huge stops on Jaromir Jagr, Aleksander Barkov, two on Willie Mitchell and denied Nick Bjugstad on a breakaway. Aaron Ekblad ripped one from the slot late in the frame, but caught the cross bar.
The Panthers kept coming in the third, but it was the Rangers who would get the next goal. This time Moore, a former Panther, fed Hunwick for his first as a Broadway Blueshirt. Hunwick's blast from the blue line deflected off Shawn Thornton and the post before finding its way past Ellis at the 8:37 mark. Jesper Fast picked up the secondary helper on the play.
Brandon Pirri finally solved Talbot 1:04 later to cut New York's lead in half. Bjugstad won an offensive draw right to Pirri and he quickly fired it home for his fifteenth goal of the season.
Despite getting a late power play, courtesy of a Ryan McDonagh hooking minor, and pulling Ellis for an extra-attacker, the Cats couldn't beat Talbot again to gain any ground on the Boston Bruins, who lost in regulation to the Washington Capitals.
The Panthers remain six points behind the Bruins, but are down to just thirteen games to make up the daunting deficit. Florida will host Atlantic Division rivals Montreal and Detroit before finally going head-to-head with B's at the BB&T Center on Saturday night.
Odds & Sods
- The Rangers swept the season series and have now beaten the Panthers in six straight games.
- Former Panther Dan Boyle was honored before the start of the contest for breaching the 1,000-game mark in the NHL.
- The Cats lost for just the second time in regulation since the deadline deal for Jaromir Jagr. Jagr finished the tilt tied with Brandon Pirri with a team-high five shots and was a force with the puck all game long.
- Rick Nash peppered Dan Ellis with a game-high seven shots, but the Cats managed to hold the power forward off the score sheet.
- "Big" Jimmy Hayes is on a big goalless drought. Hayes has not lit the lamp in thirteen straight games and has just three assists in that span.
- The Rangers finished the game with a season-high thirty-six blocked shots.
- Florida's 27th-ranked power play went 0-for-3, contributing mightily to the lack of goals that derailed a great overall effort.
- If you can play this here guitar, be a star on Broadway and check out Blueshirt Banter for more.