New York, NY – In spite of a thrilling third period comeback, it was a bad bounce that lead to the New York Rangers (29-20-3) 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers (22-21-5) in hockey action on Tuesday night.
“We deserved to win this game tonight, that was just a tough loss,” offensive hero Mats Zuccarello who had a career-high three assists in 19:35 of ice time said. “I have learned in my time with the team so far that you need to keep battling if you want to play in this league. You need to work hard every day and keep learning every day. It’s just been a great experience for me.”
Florida got on the board at the 12:35 mark of the first period of play when Rostislav Olesz (4) top-shelved a 38 foot slap shot, which was assisted by Christopher Higgins (9) and Dennis Wideman (19) for the 1-0 lead. New York had a great opportunity to tie the game up at the 14:52 mark, when Sean Avery tried for a 22 foot snap shot, but that would be denied by the glove of Florida keeper Tomas Vokoun. As the horn would sound to end the first period of play the Panthers held on to their 1-0 lead, despite the fact that the Rangers held the shots advantage by a tally of 12-4.
The Battling Blueshirts were able to gain offensive momentum in the second period as at the 2:17 mark Derek Stepan (14) would tally a beautiful 10 foot backhander that was set up by Wojtek Wolski (14) and Mats Zuccarello (6) to even things up at 1-1.
Just as the 18,200 at Madison Square Garden settled back to their seats after celebrating, they would let out a collective groan as the Panthers would regain the lead at the 3:03 mark when Keaton Ellerby (1) tallied a 52 foot wrister that went past the five hole of Rangers keeper Henrik Lundqvist for the 2-1 lead.
Center Mike Santorelli (13) would add to that lead at the 4:11 mark, as he would record a 10 foot wrister which was set up by Bryan Allen (7) and Radek Dvorak (11) to make the score 3-1 in favor of the Panthers. Stephan would try to cut into that lead at the 8:16 mark as he tried a 20 foot writer, but his shot just went wide of the net.
Then in what was a scary moment for Blueshirts fans at the 10:25 mark a thunderous hit by Florida winger Evgeni Dadonov on blue liner Steve Eminger, seemed to rock Eminger sending the defenseman to the ice. Thankfully though for New York, who has a ton of injuries to begin with Eminger would return to the ice play for the Rangers. New York’s bad luck would continue as on the offense the shots would continue to miss the net as at the 17:28 mark an 11 foot wrister by Brian Boyle just missed the mark.
As Florida would skate into the locker room after the second period, they would still hold on to their 3-1 lead with the Rangers still out shooting their opponents by a tally of 24-16. Just when it felt like all hope would be lost, the fans of the Blueshirts got to see why this team was so special in the third period of play.
“In between the second and third periods we said a two goal lead is something that we’ve been able to come back from all year long,” Derek Stepan said. “It is nothing different-continue to play, and continue to stay the way we have been playing. We will get our chances. We just wanted to continue to play hard.”
The Rangers did just that as they would come to the ice with a new zest in their skates, allowing for the energy and enthusiasm within Madison Square Garden to build. That energy would be regained at the 1:14 mark as Brandon Prust (7) would tip-in an 11 foot shot, which was assisted by Mike Sauer (5) and Mats Zuccarello (7) to cut the Florida lead to 3-2.
New York would then get a power play opportunity at the 1:58 mark as Mike Santorelli had to serve a two minute penalty for holding Wojtek Wolski. The Rangers would cash in on that opportunity, sending the crowd into a frenzy at the 3:05 mark as Brian Boyle tied the game up. Boyle (18) would tally an eight foot wrister, which was assisted by Marian Gaborik (15) and Zuccarello (eight) to make the game 3-3.
When asked about his game Boyle would have this to say, “It is kind of the way I wanted my career to go. I wanted to be a leader and to be a contributor. My role has changed throughout the year. I want to create offensive chances every night. I want to score every night. I am getting opportunities do to it so-it is a big responsibility of mine.”
Many had thought that the Rangers would rally, much like they have all season long and come close to getting their fourth goal when at the 4:02 mark Artem Anisimov tried for a nine foot backhander, which would be denied by Panthers keeper Tomas Vokoun.
Even WWE Champion ‘The Miz’ appeared on the JumboTron to try to fire-up the Blueshirts, in the end though it would be the Panthers that would pounce for the game-winning goal on what would be a weird bounce of a shot. It happened at the 11:41 mark as Mike Weaver (2) recorded a 60 foot slap shot that somehow bounced over the head of Rangers keeper Henrik Lundqvist for the eventual 4-3 Panthers victory.
“They had all the luck they could have, if you look at their goals, the deflections they had,” Lundqvist would say of the game. “It just felt like we worked ourselves back into the game and had a really good feeling but it wasn’t enough.”
In the cage for the Panthers Tomas Vokoun would finish the night with 32 saves, while Henrik Lundqvist would end the night with 13 saves.
The Rangers will have a much needed break now as the NHL takes a pause to celebrate the All-Star game, which will be held in Raleigh, North Carolina. The two Rangers representatives to this year’s squad are keeper Henrik Lundqvist and blue liner Marc Staal.
Staal would have this to say on going to the All-Star game, “My parents will be down there; Jordan (his brother) will be down there. I haven’t seen family together since the summer so it will be nice to have a good weekend with them. Also to be able to participate in a great event like the All-Star Game it will be that much more exciting.”
New York will be back in action to host the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 7:30 p.m. face-off on Tuesday, February 1 at Madison Square Garden.