Rangers storm past Panthers into tie for 8th in East
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
With two important standings points in jeopardy of slipping away, the Rangers regrouped and scored four goals in the third period to rally for a 4-1 road victory over the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center on Saturday night, marking the first time this season that they had won a game when trailing after two periods of play.
The victory gave the Rangers a sweep of their two-game trek to the Sunshine State following Friday’s 5-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning. It also upped the team’s winning streak to three consecutive games and was the sixth straight game in which the Rangers have recorded at least one standings point (5-0-1).
In beating Florida, the Rangers passed Atlanta and moved into a tie with the Philadelphia Flyers for eighth place in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Both teams have 82 points, although the Flyers currently own the tiebreaker with two more victories than the Blueshirts. The two teams will face each other in back-to-back games to close out the season next weekend.
The Rangers could take sole possession of the eighth seed if the Flyers lose at home to Detroit in a nationally televised game on Sunday afternoon. The odds are in the Blueshirts' favor, since the Red Wings will enter that game having gone 8-0-2 over their last 10.
“I think all game we were just kind of hanging around with not really that much going on,” said defenseman Marc Staal
. “But we knew the third period would have to be our best, and we needed the points more than they (did); and we came out and had a great period.”
Trailing 1-0 after a somewhat-listless two periods of play, the Rangers received the clutch goal they were seeking when Staal scored just 18 seconds into the third period. After accepting the puck from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
, Staal skated through all three zones before ripping a vicious slap shot past Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen, tying the game 1-1.
“That was definitely the turning point in the game,” said winger Brandon Prust
. “Staalsie going coast-to-coast. Everyone just jumped up on the bench because we had a new life.”
The goal was Staal’s eighth of the season. More important, it was his third in as many games as he had also scored against in wins over the Islanders on Tuesday and the Lightning on Friday.
“I don’t know what it is,” Staal said of his recent success offensively. “I am making a more conscious effort on hitting the net when I am taking shots, and that’s the biggest thing. And, of course, when you start scoring, that breeds confidence.”
Staal’s goal not only tied the game, but it sent the Rangers on their way to a huge third period and an extremely important victory. Prust cashed in a rebound at the top of Clemmensen’s crease at 9:36 to give the Rangers their first lead of the night. Prust’s fourth goal of the season was also his second in as many nights.
“We were able to get it in deep and do what we usually do, crash and bang and throw pucks to the net, and it paid off,” said Prust, who had the game-winning goal in each of the last two games. “Whether they’re game-winners or not, they’re always good to get.”
At 11:06 the Rangers received some breathing room when Chris Drury
scored his 13th goal to put the visitors in front 3-1. Marian Gaborik
scored his 41st goal of the season, into an empty net, with one minute left to ice the game for the Rangers.
“We had to get some ugly goals and, except for Staal’s goal, that’s what we got,” said Gaborik, who added an assist to go along with his goal on Saturday. “Get rebounds, get ugly. That’s what we did in the third period.”
After nearly 27 minutes of scoreless hockey, Florida defenseman Keith Ballard beat Lundqvist on a left-wing blast to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. The goal came just as the Rangers had finished off killing a penalty and Michal Rozsival
was returning to the ice from the penalty box.
Ballard made a nice stop-and-go move against Prust, who was defending him, before unloading a hard shot that hit the crossbar and caromed into the net at 6:38 of the second period. Interestingly it was Ballard who also had scored Florida’s only goal to back Clemmensen’s 1-0 shutout over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.
The Panthers carried their 1-0 edge over the Rangers into the third period, as Clemmensen stopped all 15 shots he faced -- including 10 during the second period. The Rangers struggled mightily to generate scoring chances of any kind against the Panthers, finding it difficult to complete passes or work their way through the neutral zone.
“We were keeping positive energy,” Gaborik said of the team’s mindset during the second intermission. “We had played pretty good and had stayed right in there. We knew we had a chance (to come back) and that’s what we did. It’s exactly what you need at this time of the year.”
Clemmensen made his most difficult saves right at the start of the middle stanza after facing only five harmless shots in the opening period. Vinny Prospal
was sent in all alone at the 30-second mark on a crisp passing play between PA Parenteau and Olli Jokinen, but Clemmensen made a huge pad save. Thirty seconds later, Clemmensen was there again to make a clutch stick save after Brandon Dubinsky
stole the puck in the slot and fired a quick shot on goal.
At the other end of the ice, Lundqvist made his most difficult saves in the first period, despite Florida managing only five shots during that scoreless stanza. Lundqvist turned away Stephen Weiss from point-blank range at 4:57 of the first and then denied Radek Dvorak from between the circles after a Rangers’ giveaway three minutes later.
Lundqvist’s best save of the night came with five minutes to play in the first period when he exploded across his crease from the right post to the left, dropped into the splits, and robbed Nathan Horton from eight-feet out after a gorgeous pass from Weiss.
The Rangers and Aaron Voros received a scare early on in the game when Voros seemed to be injured at the end of his lengthy fight with Florida’s Nick Tarnasky. After the two traded a series of big blows, Voros’ leg seemed to give way as he fell to the ice. Wincing in pain Voros limped off to the locker room instead of the penalty box. Fortunately Voros returned a few minutes later and was able to take his regular shift once his fighting major had been served.
Voros capped his comeback with an assist on Drury’s goal in the third period.
The Rangers will close out their six-game road trip on Tuesday night when they travel north to face the Buffalo Sabres in search of another crucial two points.
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