It might be time to just forget about the playoff math as the Florida Panthers continued to implode on home ice; this time dropping a 5-2 decision to the New York Rangers at BB&T Center.
Befuddled Florida’s latest loss left them four points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 17 games left in the season. The Panthers have won just once in their last seven in Sunrise.
Chris Kreider opened the scoring 9:25 into the action with a nifty deflection of former Panther Steven Kampfer’s bouncing shot from the point. Mats Zuccarello picked up the second assist on Kreider’s 25th of the season.
Another ex-Cat put the Rangers up by two 3:35 later. Tanner Glass got the goal when Jason Demers forgot about him after he fell down. Glass was able to push the juicy rebound of Oscar Lindberg’s backhand behind James Reimer. J.T. Miller also collected a helper on the play.
The Broadway Blueshirts extended the lead 4:06 into the second when defenseman Brady Skjei kept Jonathan Marchessault from getting the puck into the Rangers’ end and sent Kevin Hayes off for a breakaway and the big forward deked Reimer before depositing the puck into the gaping net.
Thomas Vanek collected a loose puck in the slot and beat Henrik Lundqvist at the 11:20 mark to cut the deficit down to two. Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck drew the assists on Vanek’s first goal as a Panther.
Any chance of a Florida comeback fell by the wayside when defenseman Nick Holden took a pass from Lindberg and easily gained the slot before wiring a shot by Reimer 1:54 later. Glass registered the secondary assist for his second point of the night.
Reimer, who finished with fifteen saves, was replaced by Reto Berra, who is filling in for the injured Roberto Luongo. Berra stopped all eight of the shots he faced in relief.
The Panthers assaulted the New York net during the third period, totaling 22 shots, but were only able to come up with a late power-play goal from Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad took a pass from Trocheck, moved into the left circle, and whipped home a wrister for his tenth goal. Jussi Jokinen was also credited with an assist.
Rangers rookie Pavel Buchnevich completed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:45 left in regulation. Rick Nash picked up the lone assist on the goal.
In addition to falling further behind the Islanders, the Panthers were passed by the Philadelphia Flyers, who hammered Buffalo to reach 70 points, and technically by the idle Tampa Bay Lightning, who hold the ROW tiebreaker with each Florida team sitting at 69 points. That the Cats played so poorly with so much on the line in almost inexplicable and does not bode well for the stretch run of the season.
Bulls & Bears
- Henrik Lundqvist made 43 saves to post his 30th win of the season and the 404th of his career. Lundqvist, who was tied with Grant Fuhr, is now all alone for the tenth-most wins all-time in NHL history.
- The victory boosted the Rangers’ record in the second game of a back-to-back to a league-best 9-2-2.
- The Panthers killed off all four on New York’s power play opportunities. Florida’s league-leading PK has not surrendered a goal in eleven straight games.
- In addition to scoring goals, Aaron Ekblad and Chris Kreider each registered a game-high eight shots on goal.
- Reto Berra made his first regular season appearance in Panther uniform and kept the Blueshirts off the scoreboard. It was Berra’s first NHL action since December 9, 2015.
- Steven Kampfer’s assist on Kreider’s game-opening goal was his first point with the Rangers. New York acquired the defenseman from Florida on November 8.
- Jason Demers had a rough night, finishing with a -4 rating in 15:39 TOI.
- Blueshirt Banter will do its best keep you engaged in a room full of strangers.