Coming off of a two-game win streak and against two strong teams, the New York Rangers seemed to be on their way to regaining some confidence. Last night at Madison Square Garden proved otherwise, as a struggling Florida Panthers team took the Blueshirts by surprise. While the Rangers out chanced their last place opponent, 2 to 1, the Panthers still found a way to come out with the win.
It started with a power play opportunity for Florida in the first period. T. J. Brennan made a quick pass from the point to Brian Campbell. Campbell, from the left point, rifled a shot past Henrik Lundqvist’s left shoulder to get Florida on the board first. Ryan McDonagh went down to block the shot, but it snuck past McDonagh, and Lundqvist seemed to be screened on the shot.
The second period opened with still a 1-0 lead for Florida, and at 4:28 in the second period the Southeast Division rivals kept the lead up with another goal coming from Scott Upshall. The Panthers entered the Ranger zone with a quick snap shot from Shawn Matthias that got knocked away into the left corner by Lundqvist. Jack Skille retrieved the puck from the low corner and drove hard to the front of the net and the rest of the Panthers came down in front looking for the rebound. Scott Upshall, amidst the confusion in front, roofed a rebound past Lundqvist.
The Blueshirts quickly found themselves down 2-0, and it was not until the end of the third period that the Rangers finally broke through the Panther blockade to get on the board. At 16:12 in the third period Marian Gaborik headed into the offensive zone on a breakaway after receiving a pass in the neutral zone from Rick Nash. Gaborik fought off the defensemen and drove hard to the net, roofing one off his backhand to shorten the Panther lead to 1.
The final goal came in the last seconds of the game on an empty net. The Rangers pulled Lundqvist in an attempt to tie the game up in the remaining minutes of regulation. Gaborik got a shot off with the extra man on the ice, but the Panthers blocked the shot and Tomas Kopecky sent the puck down the other end and into the open net to close out the win.
This game made it the fifth time in six games that the Blueshirts were held to one goal or fewer. The Blueshirts’ goaltender displayed particular frustration with the efforts of last night’s game.
“We did a lot of good things,” said Lundqvist, who made 21 saves, “but it’s getting old. We just have to put the puck in the net. That’s how you win games.” (NHL.com)
It was not that the effort was not there for the Blueshirts, but with a stellar performance by the Panther’s goaltender, Jacob Markstrom, the Rangers were shut down. Furthermore, having a goalie the size of Markstrom certainly did not help, with his 6′ 6″ and 196-pound figure. No matter the obstacles presented, the Rangers still needed to find a way to cash in on the key chances they had. Almost half of the game was spent in the Panther zone.
They fired 77 shots toward goal – 44 hit the net, 24 were blocked and eight missed the net. (NHL.com)
The ability of the Panthers to hold out the Rangers and attack from the defense out, made it much more difficult for the Rangers to get anything through from the perimeter.
“We out-chanced them 2-to-1, but we’re still not creating enough offense with that amount of time in the zone,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “At the end of the game, we need to create more offense in that situation. That’s where we’re at. We need another big play at a key time and we’re just not getting it consistent enough.” (NHL.com)
The Blueshirts need to find a way to bounce back earlier if they find themselves trailing early on. They are not going to win hockey games if the jets finally come on during the third period, and even more so in the final minutes of regulation. Blueshirt defenseman, Dan Girardi, seemed to have a similar mindset.
“Every other team seems to come out really hard and put us on our heels,” Girardi said. “We have to find a way on the first shift and second shift, just throw everything we have at that them in the first couple of shifts and create some momentum that way.” (NHL.com)
With playoffs right around the corner, the Rangers do not have the luxury of losing games like last night’s. Maybe this will be a final wake up call, especially after they displayed they can beat tough teams like Jersey and Carolina, there is no excuse to lose a game to a last place team. Every game counts, and every point the Rangers can muster up is a step in the right direction.