Recap: Panthers open new year with 5-3 loss to Rangers

Same old, same old as Cats remain eight points out of playoff spot

Mika Zibanejad scored the first two goals and backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves as the New York Rangers defeated the Florida Panthers 5-3 at FLA Live Arena.

Once Zibanejad put the Panthers in a hole, the Cats cut the deficit to one three different times, but could never quite catch up and Artemi Panarin put the game away for good midway through the third period.

The Rangers opened the scoring at the 14:36 mark when Adam Fox sent Panarin and Zibanejad away on a 2-on-3 rush with each team down a man. Panarin passed to Zibanejad, who slipped by Radko Gudas, and lost control of the puck as he moved in on Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky got handcuffed by the fumble and the puck went through his legs as Vincent Trocheck was stepping out of the penalty box to make it a power-play goal.

Mika got his second marker 10:30 into the middle frame. After carrying into the Florida zone Panarin dumped the puck down low to Braden Schneider. Schneider handed off to Kaapo Kakko, who found Zibanejad open in the right circle for a one-timer.

The Panthers got on the board 3:27 later to pull within one. Josh Mahura headmanned to Eric Staal, who dished off to Nick Cousins on the right wing. Staal kept moving forward pushing K’Andre Miller back. This created a nice screen for Cousins and he beat Halak blocker-side.

New York quickly replied to rebuild its two-goal advantage at 15:44. After Bobrovksy made a sharp-angle save on Chris Kreider the puck went back to Fox at the right point. Fox crossed to Kakko in the left circle and he centered past a diving Aaron Ekblad to Kreider, who didn’t miss on the second chance, in the slot,

Bennett got the Cats back within one when he punched in the big rebound of Carter Verhaeghe’s one-timer with 48 seconds left in the period with Ben Harpur off for boarding. Gustav Forsling got the second assist for teeing up Verhaghe in the upper right circle.

Florida came out for the third period and promptly got in trouble when Verhaeghe took a hi-sticking minor.  After breaking up a play in his own end, Trocheck streaked back the other way to tap in a Kreider cross at 1:38.

Eric Staal got his second point of the night 1:15 later by stealing the puck from opposing number twelve Julien Gauthier behind the net and curling back into the right circle before punching a shot over Halak’s shoulder.

Panarin iced it at 10:04 when he gained the Panthers zone after taking an outlet pass from Harpur and sent a backhand pass to Trocheck. Ryan Lomberg lifted Trocheck stick, steering  the puck back to Panarin, who quickly shot it low through Bobrovsky’s five hole.

The Panthers peppered Halak with 14 shots in the final frame, but Staal’s was the only one to go in as slumping club fell to 16-18-4 and remained eight points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have played two fewer games, for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida only lost 18 games in regulation all of last season, That they have hit that number in just 38 games is jarring.

Bulls & Bears

  • With two assists, Adam Fox hit 200 points (31G/169A) in 241 NHL games, the second-fewest needed to reach the milestone by a defenseman in Rangers history, behind Brian Leetch, who did it in 211 games.
  • In addition to Fox, Mika Zibanejad (2G), Chris Kreider (1G/1A), Vincent Trocheck (1G/1A), Artemi Panarin (1G/1A) and Kaapo Kakko (2A) posted multipoint games.
  • Sam Bennett (6) and Carter Verhaeghe (4) combined for ten shots and had strong games, but their penalties proved costly in a close game. Bennett’s goal was his first since December 1.
  • Also proving costly was Sergei Bobrovsky’s five hole. The veteran keeper started strong by stopping 15 of 16 shots in the first period before the Rangers beat him four times on 12 shots the rest of the way.
  • Aaron Ekblad had three shots and three blocks, but he was the only Cat to finish the game with a minus-three rating.
  • The Panthers outshot (35-28) and out-hit (23-16) the Rangers and also dominated in the faceoff department (57%) yet still found a way to lose for the fifth time in its last six games.
  • For more on this first meeting of three, stop by Blueshirt Banter./