Recap: A dark Knight in Gotham as Panthers fall 5-2 to Rangers

Cats lose, but wrap first half of the season with Atlantic lead

The Florida Panthers had a brief second period lead, but ended up falling 5-2 to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in its last game before taking a long siesta.

Chris Kreider scored the game-winner and added an insurance goal, both on the power play, and Igor Shesterkin made 34 saves to end Florida’s four-game winning streak.

Kreider also drew the lone assist on Alexis Lafreniere’s goal that knotted the score at two apiece. Artemi Panarin added a third Rangers power-play into an empty net and set up two goals.

After Mika Zibanejad opened the scoring unassisted 35 seconds into the game when Gustav Forsling deflected his centering pass by a helpless Spencer Knight, and the Panthers had an Owen Tippett goal waived off due to an earlier offsides, Anthony Duclair replied for the Cats at the 10:44 mark. Aleksander Barkov dropped the puck to Jonathan Huberdeau, who crossed to The Duke and he ripped a shot by Shesterkin from the middle of the right circle.

Florida forged ahead 2:19 into the second when Barkov took the patented power-play drop pass from Aaron Ekblad, gained the Rangers zone and rang a shot off the post that Sam Reinhart knocked in.

Unfortunately, New York would turn up the heat and the Panthers while started running out of gas.  Lafreniere shoveled a backhander through Knight after Kreider separated Ekblad from the puck a 1:19 after Reinhart’s goal. The Rangers would take the lead at 17:25 with Carter Verhaeghe off for hooking when Ryan Strome took a stretch pass from Panarin and saucered the puck into the slot for Kreider to redirect home.

The NHL’s leading goal-scorer was the beneficiary of a perfect goalmouth pass from Zibanejad with 5:21 left in the game to bag his 33rd and put the Broadway Blueshirts up by a deuce. Mason Marchment was the guilty Panther in the sin box this time.

As feared, the second segment of the back-to-back was too tall a task for the Panthers last night as the Rangers stars outshone those of the Cats on Broadway. Shesterkin got the better of the rookie Knight, who finished with 30 saves. The Cats put up a good fight, hanging around until Kreider’s second of the night essentially ended it. The Blueshirts took the season series two games to one. This would be a great playoff matchup that we could possibly get later this spring. We won’t see the Panthers until February 16, when they visit the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.

Bulls & Bears

  • The Panthers head into the All-Star break with a league-leading 69 points. They top the Atlantic Division and are third in the NHL (behind Colorado and Carolina) with a points percentage of .734.
  • Aaron Ekblad matched his NHL career high in points of 41 with his second period helper. Ekblad produced 41 points during the 2019-20 campaign. That’s going to get samashed.
  • Artemi Panarin became the fourth undrafted player to begin his NHL career with seven consecutive 50-point seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky, Peter Stastny and Mike Ridley. Panarin posted his sixth game this season with three or more points.
  • Chris Kreider has poured in 12 goals in last 10 games and leads Leon Draisaitl by two in the race for the Rocket.
  • Former Panthers and current Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant became the 51st coach in NHL history to hit 300 games. Congrats, Turk!
  • For more on the season-series decider, visit Blueshirt Banter./

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