Rangers decide playoff spot might be huge, score four unanswered over Panthers

Nick Tarnasky


Aaron Voros

made it look a lot more interesting, with a fine tussle in the first period, setting the stage for a grudgematch between a club straining for credibility and another seeking respectibility. We'll leave it to you to decide who's who.

In the end, Keith Ballard's first period goal was but a tease, leading to a barrage set in motion by Marc Staal (assist to Henrik Lundqvist), leading to tallies by Brandon Prust, Chris Drury, and Marian Gaborik. King Henrik finished the evening with 19 saves. Yeah...19.

Nick Tarnasky and Aaron Voros decided to share paint rather early, making for the only enjoyable patch of first period action.

Scott Clemmensen - fresh off a shutout victory in Boston - had easily half the support he enjoyed in Beantown, stopping 23 of 26 shots. Dude hasn't been forgotten; looked solid.

For the record, the Panthers have been eliminated from playoff contention. And at this point, so what?

We didn't go into the season planning on this quite so early - if at all. Hockey media from coast to coast dictated the Panthers did not have enough scoring to survive the season. Minus the injuries to presumed leading scorers David Booth and Nathan Horton, they were correct.

As a fan, the past week or so has been ridiculously difficult to cover; exactly who are we supposed to support? The club, or the lottery spot?

Like so many of us, I love this team, this franchise, this organization. I'm extraordinarily patient about playoff reservations, and equally about asking too much of a club not constructed for the Long March Forward (ya know...Whalers and all). Simply writing the recent "LotteryMania" fluff has been an exercise in dual-personalities; it doesn't come naturally.

Next up: Ottawa on Tuesday.