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Recap: Panthers hit the self-destruct button in 5-2 loss to Rangers

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Shorthanded goal turns the tide in latest Cats defeat

Florida Panthers v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad each scored two goals as New York Rangers picked up their third win of the season with a 5-2 victory over the reeling Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden. ZIbanejad added two assists to equal his career-high with four points.

Once again, the Panthers started well, dominating the first period and taking a 1-0 lead when Vincent Trocheck beat rookie goaltender Alexandar Georgiev with 1:15 left in the frame.

Trocheck took a pass Evgenii Dadonov and fired the puck in from the right circle with Aleksander Barkov providing the screen. Jonathan Huberdeau picked up the second assist on the power-play goal.

Unfortunately, Huberdeau would also help set up the Rangers first goal early in the second period when his pass intended for Barkov in the neytral zone was off the mark. Adam McQuaid collected and passed ahead for Zibanejad, who fended off Huberdeau’s attempt to lift his stick, rounded the net and shoveled the puck home on a wraparound for a deflating shorthanded goal. Panthers goalie Michael Hutchinson looked a little slow getting across the net.

The goal zapped all the momentum the Panthers had built up over the first portion of the game, but the wheels didn’t immediately come off as the Cats were able to kill off a tripping penalty on Alex Petrovic. The Rangers, however, were able to cash in when Denis Malgin went to the box for hi-sticking later in the period.

After a Zibanejad faceoff win over rookie Juho Lammikko, defenseman Neal Pionk went cross-ice to Zucarello ,who moved in from the point and put a shot off Mike Matheson’s stick that deflected through Hutchinson’s legs.

A few minutes later, a tripping penalty on Frank Vatrano put New York back on the power play and this time Zibanejad got the goal after Pionk found him wide-open above the left circle.

Zibanejad cleanly won an offensive zone draw again, this against Barkov, early in the third and Zuccarello quickly zinged a wrister by Hutchinson before he could get set, ending the keeper’s night at the 1:27 mark. Hutchinson exited with 15 saves on 19 shots.

The game was essentially over at that point. Up by three, the Rangers were content to let the Panthers carry the play the rest of the way. Florida added one more goal when Mike Hoffman scored with 9:33 left. Hoffman worked a nice give-and-go with Huberdeau, sped around the net and put the puck in off Georgiev’s pad on the wraparound. The secondary assist went to Aaron Ekblad.

Kevin Hayes completed the scoring with an empty-netter, from Jesper Fast and Brady Skeji, with 52 seconds remaining.

***

Once the Rangers scored the shorthanded goal, they made the rest of the game look rather easy. At no point did I ever believe the Cats were going to come out of MSG with a win, Yet again, the Panthers wasted another strong start and showed little fight once they were faced with a negative situation. They also continued to make the other club’s backup goaltender look good. After the opening period, the Cats completely failed on special teams and failed to get a big stop when needed from Hutchinson. You can fault the goalie a bit on Zibanejad’s first goal, but that was still a well-earned goal, in my opinion. The other New York goals... well, those seemed to come with little to no resistance. On a night when the Rangers’ big guns were going off, the Panthers top line combined for a paltry three shots on goal and finished with a -7 rating. Looks like James Reimer will be tasked with backstopping the Cats to victory tonight in Brooklyn.

Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)