NEW YORK – The New York Rangers struggles continued as the team lost an important game to the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden Thursday night. Despite outshooting the visitors 41-22 and taking a 1-0 lead into the final nine minutes of the game, the Rangers came up 2-1 losers in a game they could ill afford to lose. With the victory, Florida pulls ahead of New York in the Eastern Conference standings. The Rangers are now seventh in the conference, one solitary point ahead of eight-placed Buffalo and ninth-placed Carolina.
Despite the team’s inability to put the puck in the net, new head coach John Tortorella refused to criticize the Rangers game. “I think we did some really good things,” he said. “Our pressure was outstanding.” Other than squandering a 5-on-3 powerplay in the second period “we played a hell of a game,” Tortorella said.
Florida head coach Peter DeBoer shared these views. “I thought they played an outstanding game,” he said of the Rangers. “Let’s be honest; nine times out of 10 when the other team plays like that, you usually lose.” DeBoer said killing off the 5-on-3 was likely the turning point in the game.
Markus Naslund scored the Rangers only goal in the first period. A solid check by Ryan Callahan produced a Panthers turnover. Dmitri Kalinin ran the puck up the left wing and delivered it to Scott Gomez, whose backhand shot was saved by Florida netminder Craig Anderson before Naslund deposited the rebound for his team-best 19th goal of the season.
The Rangers dominated the first 30 minutes of the game had numerous chances to expand their lead. Some outstanding saves by Florida goalie Anderson combined with goalmouth ineptitude by the host team kept the margin at 1-0. The Panthers began to regain momentum in the second half of the middle period and nearly leveled the score in the opening minutes of the third. But the post saved Henrik Lundqvist-at least temporarily. The Swedish netminder, who had turned in a characteristically stellar performance to that point, was beaten on a “five hole” shot by David Booth at 11:50 of the final period.
Torts refused to blame Lundqvist when given a chance to in the post game press conference. “It’s a tough game for a goalie where you don’t see much action and then there’s a couple of opportunities,” he said. “I thought [Lundqvist] made some key saves in the second period when he hadn’t seen any action at all and made a couple of great saves.” Instead, it was a matter of the team getting its goaltender some margin of error to work with. “We have to try to get that second goal so that type of situation doesn’t hurt you,” said the coach.
Nathan Horton got the game winner for the Panthers one minute after Booth had tied it. The goal prompted the inevitable boos and “fire Sather” chants from the Garden faithful. But Tortorella remained upbeat and made clear he is not going to be picking on individual players-at least not yet. “You can’t hate your guys because they’re struggling,” he said. “Its easy to love them when its going well and then hate them when its going bad. They did a lot of good things tonight. We’re just struggling to score and that’s compounded when they score a couple of quick ones on us towards the end of the game when we controlled most of the game for the 60 minutes.”