The Rangers nearly turned the thrill of victory into the agony of what would’ve been a crushing defeat.
The Rangers literally had to hang on for a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden last night. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin each had two assists as the Rangers bounced back from their 6-0 drubbing in Calgary, Saturday night.
“It was no fun watching that. You win a game against an undefeated team, a great team and you don’t feel good about that one,” coach Gerard Gallant said after the Rangers blew another third period lead. I’ll take the two points later but it’s not the way you gotta play hockey.”
The Rangers were in control for the first 58 minutes of the game, but it was the final two minutes where things got interesting for Florida and scary for the home team.
Florida put enormous pressure on Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin all throughout the game. The 25-year old net minder took more shots than “Sonny at the toll booth,” as he stopped 42 of 45 shots. Shesterkin was particularly brilliant in the second period when he stopped 17 shots. For the game, the Rangers only got 18 shots on goal, but four of them went in.
The effort finally paid off for the Panthers early in the third when they broke through on Shesterkin.
Florida center Eetu Luostarinen scored his fourth goal of the season at the 20 second mark of the third period to make it a 4-1 game. Suddenly, memories of the third periods in the Vancouver and Edmonton games began dancing in the Rangers’ heads.
“When you lose two games like that, I’m not gonna sit here and lie and say I don’t have that in the back of my mind when they start creeping up like that,” Zibanejad said after the game. “We try to fight it off, we try and work as hard as we can and try and close out the game. Again, we won.”
To their credit, the Rangers settled down in the third and appeared to have weathered the storm but the Panthers grabbed the momentum back in the final two minutes.
With 1:26 left in the third period, Florida’s Sam Reinhart scored from the slot to cut the lead to 4-2. 46 seconds later, Patric Hornqvist took a loose puck in the left face off circle, after Zibanejad failed to play it, and fired a turnaround shot past Shesterkin to cut it to a precarious one goal lead.
The third period meltdowns have become an alarming trend early in the season. Gallant has tried to address this issue but can’t seem to get it turned around. “I wish had the answer for you right now,” Gallant said. “We’ve been talking about it, we’ve been showing some video about it, just seems like we give up the slot shots more than anybody else. It’s frustrating.”
In the final seconds, Shesterkin made one more save, his 42nd of the game, as the Rangers survived Florida’s late game surge.
Despite the discrepancy in shot totals, the Rangers played an impressive 40 minutes as they took a 4-0 lead after two periods.
Chris Kreider got the Rangers on the board at 7:52 of the first period on the power play. Kreider poked a loose puck past Panthers goaltender Spencer Knight for his 9th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.
Florida was on the power play late in the first period when Adam Fox scored shorthanded for a 2-0 lead. Fox took a beautiful, no look pass from Barclay Goodrow and fired it past Knight for his third of the season with six seconds remaining in the period.
In the second, the Rangers scored twice within 30 seconds.
First, it was K’Andre Miller, who played his best game of the season, scoring one of the most impressive goals of the young season. “I think I might put him up at left wing now,” Gallant said.
Miller went on an end to end rush and blew past Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar with a burst of speed. He then cut it front of the net and as he was falling down, he was able to bury the puck for his first goal of the season at 12:48 of the second and a 3-0 lead.
“When I looked up, the defenseman was a little flat footed,” Miller said. “I don’t think he estimated how fast I was going. Took advantage of that, went wide and finished it off.”
30 seconds later, Ryan Strome took a beautiful feed from Jacob Trouba and shot the puck into an open net that gave the Rangers a stunning 4-0 lead after two periods of play.
In their last four games, the Rangers have given up 11 third period goals. “That third period is not acceptable for us,” Gallant said. “We gotta fight through it, we gotta go up, we gotta be men, we got to fight through it late in the hockey game.”
The Rangers are 7-3-3 and are off until Saturday when they start a stretch of six games in nine days beginning in Columbus.