After stealing a game in Raleigh, the Rangers were back at it on Sunday against the Florida Panthers or as they are also known, New York Rangers South 2.0. For some odd reason, a second Florida based franchise has decided to collect a group of former Rangers for the sole purpose of making our lives miserable. So pretty much a Brian Boyle hat trick was incoming and was entirely inevitable. On a more serious note, the Rangers were again without Mika Zibanejad, who had practiced in a non-contact jersey earlier in the week, but was not been scheduled to play again. Reports have indicated that Zibanejad has had both good days and bad days since the injury and that it was been difficult to predict a realistic timetable for when he will be back. Since the injury to Zibanejad in Boston, the Rangers have managed to figure it out and have played a series of games in which their chemistry and competence have appeared to be unaltered in spite of the absence of such a core player. Although we have managed to win some big games against difficult opponents, I don’t believe we will truly be able to evaluate and identify the true ceiling of the team this season until Zibanejad is fully healthy again. The eventual return of Mika will force Quinn to make a tough decision. Despite what appeared to be a glaring like of depth in the pre-season, the Rangers will find themselves with too many NHL ready centers for the current construction of their lineup. It remains to be seen who will come out or transition to wing when Zibanejad comes back, but if it was up to me Brendan Smith would already be playing in the Swedish Elite League so we wouldn’t have to be having this conversation.
In other injury news, Marc Staal has also hit the injury list due to an operation he had to have on an infection in his leg. According to reports, he will be sidelined for at least two weeks. The timing of the injury can’t be more frustrating for Staal, who recently just attempted to re-insert himself back into the starting lineup after being a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. In this case of injury, I will say that it is fair to determine a ceiling for this young team without Staal because his play both this season and the last few years typically represents the basement instead.
The Rangers opted to stick with the same lineup they had against the Hurricanes last week, with the only exception being Ryan Lindgren replacing the previously mentioned Marc Staal. The Panthers came into MSG after starting off the season quietly strong, accumulating nineteen points in through their first sixteen games. The Panthers were hoping to make a strong push to contend in a tough Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last season and made an effort to bolster their roster via free agency this offseason. With all of the being said, the two teams met for an early afternoon game at the Garden and the Rangers looked to make it two in a row.
The two teams came out of the gate hot and were flying all over the ice. Both clubs appeared to play a similar, face-paced game that led to numerous chances on both ends. The Rangers managed to strike first in the period, at 05:06 Ryan Lindgren opened up the scoring with a beautiful snipe over the shoulder of the Florida back-up goaltender. That was Lindgren’s first goal of the season and his first NHL goal. Both Strome and Panarin continued to stay hot, while both assisting on the afternoons opening goal.
The intense first period continued to go back and forth with chances occurring on both ends. The Panthers managed to tie the game late in the period after Aleksander Barkov fired a contested shot past Jesper Fast and past an unsuspecting Henrik Lundqvist at 18:13 of the period. Only thirty second later, the Panthers took the lead. Despite a few incredible saves by Lundqvist, Florida forward Dominic Toninato happened to be in the right place at the right time and buried home a loose rebound for his first goal of the season. The period ended with the Panthers leading 2-1.
The second period began with an expectation that the pace of play would remain the same or at least eventually slow down. Instead, the period consisted of the most non-stop action and offense that I have ever seen as a hockey fan. Both the Panthers and the Rangers did not give fans a moment to breath, as they continued to match one another in both efforts on the ice and also on the scoreboard. The Rangers managed to tie things up 01:28 of the period on a silky smooth deke from Chytil, who put the puck through the legs of former Ranger Anton Stralman and into the back of the net
However, the tie was short lived, as only a few minutes later Florida took advantage of a powerplay on a questionable call. Evgenii Dadonov finished off a beautiful passing sequence by wiring the puck past a helpless Lundqvist to give the Panthers back their lead. The Rangers then responded with yet another goal, this time by Brady Skeji, who at 05:31 of the second threw a puck on net that managed to find its way past the Panthers goaltender.
It was luck, but it still counts. The score was once again tied, but this time at three apiece.
At 07:31 of the first period the Rangers finally managed to retake the lead. Kaapo Kakko continued to stay hot and fired a puck into the back of the Florida net to give the Rangers a 4-3 lead. That was Kakko’s fourth of the season as he continued to earn ice-time and found himself once again on the blueshirts first powerplay unit.
Before the crowd could quiet and the PA announcer could announce the stat line, the Panthers once again tied the game at 08:30 of the second period. Forward Frank Vatrano found himself all alone on a breakaway and roofed a backhanded shot bar down. This marked the fifth goal in the period all of which occurred before the halfway point.
The Rangers once again answered and took advantage of another powerplay opportunity. At 18:35 of the period, Chris Kreider deflected a point shot by Adam Fox after a faceoff win and put the blueshirts in front 5-4 late in the second period. The score remained the same going into the third.
The third period was a little less exciting. Most because the Panthers again managed to tie the game and of course it was done by non-other than Brian Boyle. Who has managed to become a productive and offensive threat on every team he’s played for since strictly killing penalties and blocking shots for the Rangers years ago. Regardless, at 07:01 of the third the game was tied and remained tied throughout the rest of regulation.
The three on three overtime was exactly as expected, entertaining. The Rangers managed to control most of the puck possession despite only getting a few substantial scoring chances. Panarin almost managed to end the game, but a rolling puck off a feed from his line mate prevented the puck from being able to cross the goal line. The game was then pushed to overtime.
The Rangers chose a likely three for their shootout lineup. Artemi Panarin started the period by making a fantastic move to force the Florida goalie into a desperate position, but shot the puck off of the sprawling goalies pad. The Panthers immediately answered via Frank Vatrano who once again beat Lundqvist one on one and gave Florida a 1-0 edge.
Tony DeAngelo was the next shooter and again beat the Florida goalie, but rang his wrist shot off of the post. Lundqvist then made a stop on Barkov to keep the score at 1-0.
Kaapo Kakko kept the Rangers hopes alive by firing a hard wrist shot past the Panthers goalie and tied the Panthers 1-1. But, this was short lived as Vincent Trocheck made a nice move and beat Lundqvist to end it.
Despite this heartbreaking loss, the Rangers played well and did a lot to hang in there with a talented and fast Florida Panthers team. As the story has typically gone for the Rangers over the last few years, the offense was clicking but the defense seemed to be lacking. Too often the Panthers were able to answer immediately after a Rangers goal and had no problem gaining entry into the Rangers end. With the two-week absence of Marc Staal, Coach Quinn should be able to work consistently with this young backend and hopefully continue to allow them to grow and gain more confidence. The Rangers will be back in action tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins for their first meeting of the season. Although the Rangers will once again be without the talents of Mika Zibanejad, the Penguins will also be without a few stars of their own including Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. With an upcoming few games on the road and a rare opportunity to face the Penguins without Crosby, the Rangers need to take advantage and emerge with two points in order to continue to climb in the standings.
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