Brad Richards and Mats Zuccarello scored third-period goals as the Rangers snapped a 2-2 tie and skated to a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. The win was the Rangers third in a row and sixth in their last seven games, and lifted them over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
Henrik Lundqvist excelled between the pipes for the Rangers, especially over the first two periods when the home team played somewhat lackidasically against a Panthers team that is now winless in its last nine games. Lundqvist finished with 24 saves and evened his personal won-loss record at 6-6-0.
Richards put the Rangers ahead 3-2 just 46 seconds into the third period when he snapped a shot from the left circle over the glove hand of Panthers goalie Tim Thomas. The goal was not only a clutch one, and Richards' first in nine games, but it served as redemption after the Rangers' alternate captain missed a wide-open net on a tap in attempt late in the second period---a miss that led to Richards snapping his stick over the crossbar in frustration. Richards--who also picked up an assist on Zuccarello's goal five and a half minutes later--now leads the Rangers with six goals and 15 points through 17 games.
The Rangers increased their lead to 4-2 at 6:16 of the third when Zuccarello powered a right-wing slap shot past Thomas with the Rangers in the midst of a 5-on-3 power play opportunity. Like Richards, Zuccarello now has recorded points in three straight games for the Rangers, whose record improved to 9-8-0 on the season.
Brian Campbell's second goal of the game, and second of the season, with 7:03 to play closed the gap and marked the first time in ten games that the Rangers had surrendered more than two goals.
After jumping out to a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, the Rangers surrendered the next two goals before Derek Dorsett's second goal of the season pulled the Blueshirts even before the second intermission could arrive. It was not where the Rangers would have planned to be before the game, but considering their often-sloppy play over the game's first 40 minutes, they had to be happy to be tied at two-all heading into the third period.
J.T. Miller finished off an absolutely gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing sequence to score his first goal of the season, and hand the Rangers a 1-0 lead, 9:49 into the opening period. After Chris Kreider's hustle led to a neutral-zone turnover by the Panthers, Miller crossed into the offensive zone with the puck before dropping it to Ryan McDonagh, who proceeded to use a drag move to dance around one Panther. McDonagh then fed Kreider on right wing, and Kreider dished perfectly to Miller on the left, where the 20 year-old netted his first goal since February 7th of last season---a span of 35 games.
Considering some shaky defensive moments in that first period, the Rangers would have been happy to take a 1-0 lead into the dressing room, but Brian Boyle took an offensive zone hooking penalty at 19:16 and the Panthers made the Blueshirts pay when 18 year-old rookie Aleksander Barkov scored off a rebound with 26.1 seconds to play in the period. Lundqvist made a first save on Tom Gilbert's left wing blast, then a remarkable pad save on Kris Versteeg's put back, before Barkov was left alone to deposit his fourth goal into the gaping cage.
Lundqvist was tested early and often in the second period as the Rangers played somewhat carelessly at times in front of their goaltender. His save on Gilbert's wide-open putback 7:30 into the second period was Lundqvist's best of the night. He also made three clutch stops during a scramble in front shortly thereafter as the Panthers looked for the go-ahead score.
That goal Florida was seeking finally came at 11:20 of the second when Campbell's left point shot hit a body in front with the puck bouncing past Lundqvist. Campbell was given credit for his first goal of the season, while Gilbert and Versteeg were both awarded their second assists of the night.
Shortly before Campbell's goal, Florida forward Scottie Upshall was deposited over the boards and face first into the Rangers bench on a crushing check delivered by Ryan Callahan. To Upshall's credit he regrouped quickly and later set thescreen in front of Lundqvist on Campbell's score.
Some hard work in the offensive zone by Boyle and Dorsett led to the Rangers pulling even two and half minutes later, though. The duo was able to work the puck from behind the net to the side, and Dorsett jammed the loose puck over the goal line for his second of the season, and first in 14 games, to tie the game at 2-2.
Richards' near-miss followed Dorsett's score, though his redemption would come shortly thereafter, and both teams not only exited the ice after 40 minutes of play tied 2-2 on the scoreboard, but even in shots, as well, at 20 apiece.
The Rangers survived a late penalty to Kreider---for cross checking Upshall at 18:45 of the third period---and limited Florida to one shot on goal while skating 6-on-4, with Thomas pulled for an extra attacker during the power play, to close out the game.
Next up, the Rangers look to win four games in a row for the first time this season when they host the Devils Tuesday night at The Garden.
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