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Panthers Get Pivotal Two Points in Shootout Win Over Rangers

After uninspiring losses at the hands of the Jets and Lightning, the Rangers looked to get back on track in the final game of their short trip to Florida. It was a momentous evening in RangersTown, as tonight was Henrik Lundqvist’s 800th game as a Blueshirt. The King became the first goalie and ninth player to play at least 800 career games with the Rangers franchise.

The Blueshirts started this contest with a plethora of scoring opportunities, on which they couldn’t convert. Roberto Luongo was tested right at the outset and stood up to the challenges. Panthers head coach, Bob Boughner, decided to tinker with his lines in an attempt to jumpstart the Cats’ offense, and succeeded. In the latter half of this action-packed period, it was Lundqvist who was under siege, and Florida who had the better of the play. Rob O’Gara’s late interference penalty proved costly, as the Panthers capitalized with the man-advantage. Vincent Trocheck fired a snap-shot that began to trickle through Lundqvist’s five-hole, and was guided into to the open-net by Jonathan Huberdeau, with only 14.8 ticks remaining in the opening frame. Posting an assist on the goal, was former Ranger, Keith Yandle, whose helper marked his 40th of the season. The Blueshirts had seemingly just overcome their early-game defensive woes, but now have made a habit of surrendering late-period scores.

The Excitement continued in the middle period, as it was another eventful one. A little over eight minutes in, the newly-formed trio of Frank Vatrano, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trocheck executed a sensational string of passes, resulting in Vatrano’s first goal as a Panther in his first game. Florida’s beautiful passing-play was capped off by a highlight-reel through-the-legs backhand dish by Trocheck, signifying his second primary-assist of the night. Boughner’s squad had a flurry of quality chances after increasing their lead, as they attempted to put the game out of reach, but Lundqvist preserved the two-goal deficit. The Blueshirts would answer about five minutes later when Ryan Spooner sent a pass to Neal Pionk, whose one-timer ricocheted off the stick of Mats Zuccarello, and past Roberto Luongo. The Rangers alternate captain now has goals in consecutive games, and 12 on the campaign.

Trailing by one at the commencement of the final frame, the Boys in Blue wouldn’t waste any time. 17 seconds in, Mika Zibanejad buried the equalizer, as he caught Luongo cheating off his post and beat him with a short-side-backhand shot. Florida regained the lead less than a minute later after Jamie McGinn tapped home the rebound of Alex Petrovic’s shot, which Lundqvist was unable to corral. However, the Blueshirts wouldn’t submit. Ryan Spooner’s crafty touch-pass sprung John Gilmour, Mats Zuccarello, and Kevin Hayes on a three-on-two rush. Gilmour left the puck for Hayes, and he released a wicked wrist-shot that eluded Luongo, knotting the game at three. Hayes has now eclipsed the 20 goal plateau for the first time in his career, and has 15 points in his last 14 games. Additionally, Ryan Spooner continued his heroics. With two more assists tonight, Spooner currently has 12 points (2 goal and 10 assists) in 7 games on Broadway. Absurd numbers from someone who was essentially a throw-in in the Rick Nash exchange due to salary cap complications.

This game would need extra time, and overtime wouldn’t be enough. The two future hall-of-fame net-minders battled it out in OT, with the five minute period ending scoreless. Florida elected to shoot second in the shootout, which began with Mats Zuccarello’s filthy deke on Luongo. The Rangers next two shooters, Spooner and Zibanejad, were stoned by the Panthers’ goaltender. Lundqvist faced a deadly threesome, in Huberdeau, Barkov, and Trocheck respectively. After Huberdeau was stopped, Hank yielded goals to the following two shooters, as Barkov and Trochek pulled off some remarkable moves themselves. Florida emerged victorious in the shootout, and the game concluded with a 4-3 final score. The Cats extended their winning streak at the BB&T Center to 8 games, and obtained a crucial two points towards their playoff push. The Blueshirts came away with a point in this very entertaining Eastern Conference matchup.

Florida took the rubber match of their season series against the Rangers, with all three games coming down to the wire. Two of tilts needed added time, and the other was decided in the final minute. The Blueshirts will return to Madison Square Garden on Monday, where they will take on the Carolina Hurricanes, whom they have already defeated twice this season (7:00 PM, MSG).

Brian Paget is on Twitter @BrianPaget17


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