Six Rangers had multi point games, and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves and came oh so close to scoring his first NHL goal as the Rangers scored a 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden last night.
Overall, a good night for the Rangers, or was it? Not according to coach Gerard Gallant. “Honestly, I wasn’t overly happy most of the night,” he said after the game.
Artemi Panarin had three assists, Mika Zibanejad had two goals and an assist and Adam Fox had a goal and two assists as the Rangers broke out offensively but Gallant did not feel the team played a good game.
“We turned a lot of pucks over the first two periods in the neutral zone, then giving up a lot of chances,” Gallant said. “I just didn’t think we played well enough and we got some breaks. We got some puck luck tonight, some breaks but our game wasn’t real good.”
The Rangers scored two goals in the first, one in the second and then took over the game with three goals in the third period.
Fox scored his 10th goal of the season to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead a little over three minutes into the first period. Fox got by Florida defenseman Gustav Forsling in the offensive zone and made a nifty little back hand move in front to nudge the puck past Florida goaltender Alex Lyon.
Less than a minute later, the Rangers nearly took a 2-0 lead but Lyon denied Jimmy Vesey on a breakaway.
Florida’s power play was hot coming into the game and they capitalized with the man advantage to tie the game when the Rangers were called for a bench minor for too many men on the ice.
Panthers’ center Carter Verhaeghe beat Shesterkin at 5:56 of the first period for the tying goal. It was Verhaeghe’s 23rd goal of the season and it was Florida’s fourth power play goal in their last four games, their seventh in their last eight.
Over the previous six games, the Rangers power play was 1 for 19. Gallant sent out the second power play unit to start but it was the first unit that ended up scoring the go ahead goal.
Zibanejad took a cross ice feed from Panarin and fired a one timer past Lyon for his 21st goal and a 2-1 lead. It was also the 250th goal of Zibanejad’s career. “I try to not analyze my career now while I’m still in it,” the humble center responded when asked a question about where this milestone goal ranks in his career.
The Rangers took a 3-1 lead after two periods thanks to the first of two “dirty goals.”
Former Rangers coach Mike Keenan (remember him?) used to talk about “intensity around the net,” and how that can lead to “dirty goals.”
Gallant tweaked the lines coming into this one and the newly formed unit of Vesey, Barclay Goodrow and Vincent Trocheck brought that intensity around the net to score the third goal.
Trocheck skated in front and the initial shot was stopped by Lyon. Goodrow’s pass from behind the goal line was blocked by Panthers defenseman and former Ranger Marc Staal but the puck settled behind Lyon. Before the Panthers goaltender could fall on the puck, Vesey poked it in the net for his 8th goal of the season.”
“It’s good to see some goals in the blue paint definitely and the power play goal as well,” Vesey said. “If our power play is gonna click and we’re gonna get ugly goals, we’re a dangerous team.”
In the third period, the Rangers got their second dirty goal of the game to take a 4-1 lead.
Alexis LaFreniere, who had not scored in the previous 17 games, capped off a scramble in front with his sixth goal of the season at 7:56 of the third period. Gallant reunited the “kid line” and they created a chance in front as LaFreniere outworked three Florida players to get his stick on the puck in the crease and push it over the goal line.
“Exactly what you need, especially when you’re not scoring a lot of goals. We were around the net, Vesey puts that one in, Laf at the net,” Gallant said.
14 seconds later, the Rangers made it a 5-1 lead as Zibanejad scored his second of the game and team leading 22nd of the season.
Zibanejad was reunited on a line with Panarin and Chris Kreider. Panarin had his sixth, three point game of the season but what was even more impressive was his defensive game, which has come under fire. Panarin back checked and broke up a number of Florida’s scoring chances with some really good defensive plays.
“It might take a couple of games before we get used to each other, [get] the chemistry kinda going but I thought, overall, pretty good today,” Zibanejad said.
With a little over nine minutes remaining, Panthers coach Paul Maurice made an unusual move as he pulled Lyon. Florida scored their second goal to cut the lead to 5-2 but Filip Chytil cashed in with an empty net goal to cap off the scoring.
With a little over five minutes left and Lyon on the bench, Shesterkin had a chance to score his first NHL goal.
After making a stop, Shesterkin fired the puck down the ice but it just missed going in the net. Gallant thought Shesterkin had it. “I thought it was in, from the angle from the bench, I thought it was in,” said Gallant.
Kappo Kakko had two assists, while LaFreniere and Chytil also added an assist. The Rangers were outshot 35-26 but it didn’t matter.
Rangers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 and 15-4-2 in their last 21 games. The Rangers have two more games before the All Star break. Wednesday in Toronto and Friday at home against the Vegas Golden Knights.