Henrik Lundqvist and his teammates rebounded from a subpar outing two nights earlier and skated their way to a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center Wednesday night. The Rangers have now won three of their first four games on this five-game road trip which concludes Friday afternoon in Boston.
Lundqvist surrendered four goals on 22 shots before being pulled after two periods of play in the Rangers 5-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night, but bounced back with a thoroughly solid performance Wednesday against the Panthers. He finished with 31 saves while coming within seven and a half minutes of his third shutout of the season. A pair of late Panthers goals did make this game more interesting than the Rangers would have liked.
Derick Brassard, Brad Richards, and Rick Nash scored to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead before Mats Zuccarello netted a power play goal with 1:28 to play and Carl Hagelin added an empty-netter with 23.1 seconds remaining. Zuccarello ended the night with a goal and an assist.
In each of the first two periods the Rangers were on their heels against relentless Panthers pressure early on before righting themselves and scoring a pair of big goals. As such the Rangers carried a 2-0 into the second intermission.
Brassard opened the scoring at the 12:14 mark of the first period, neatly deflecting a Zuccarello pass past Thomas. The goal was Brassard's fifth of the season, and third on the power play---the Rangers taking advantage with rookie Dylan Olsen in the penalty box for holding Taylor Pyatt moments before.
Pyatt returned to the Rangers lineup after an eight-game absence caused by a concussion and took the place of Derek Dorsett who has a sore wrist. Dorsett took warmups, but was unable to play, and Pyatt---taken off Injured Reserve earlier in the day---was inserted into the lineup, skating alongside Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle.
It was a dominating shift in which Pyatt and his linemates controlled the puck along the boards and were so strong on the cycle that Olsen was forced to grab ahold of Pyatt, sending the Rangers to their first power play of the game.
Richards upped the Rangers lead to 2-0 late in the second period, though only after Florida had dominated much of the period with a ferocious forecheck. The Panthers recorded the first nine shots on goal in the second period before a Chris Kreider wrist shot 7:45 into the period broke through for the visitors. Lundqvist was exceptionally strong in the middle stanza, positioned well and playing with much confidence.
After settling things down, the Rangers began to see a bit more offensive zone time; and an innocent looking shot by Richards from right wing somehow eluded Thomas to the far side with 1:07 to play, doubling the Rangers lead. Thomas may have been screened by his own defenseman on the play, with Rick Nash charging towards the net, as well. The goal was unassisted, and was the team-high seventh this season for Richards.
The Rangers received what turned out to be a hugely important goal 5:32 into the third period when Nash scored his second goal in five games since returning from a 17-game injury related absence. Like Richards' score, Nash's goal was also unassisted as Nash caused a Panthers turnover in the high slot before snapping a shot that beat Thomas to the blocker side.
Scottie Upshall snapped Lundqvist's shutout bid seven minutes later when the Panthers took advantage of a poor pass by Zuccarello in his own end. Brad Boyes intercepted Zuccarello's weak pass, fed Upshall in front of the net, and Upshall lifted the puck over Lundqvist at 12:28 for his fifth goal of the season.
Four minutes later Nick Bjugstad cut the Panthers deficit to one by sneaking a bad angle shot from left wing between Lundqvist and the post for an unassisted goal, his third of the season.
Ryan Callahan drew a penalty at 17:21 and Zuccarello followed by scoring on the ensuing power play to make sure there was not a complete collapse by the Rangers, who will travel up to Boston on Thanksgiving Day to prepare for Friday's battle with the Bruins.