NEW YORK – The Rangers didn’t get their best start in their Sunday evening match at MSG against the Panthers.
In fact, the Panthers – a team that had gone winless in its last eight games and just fired its coach — may have been outplaying the Rangers – a team that came into the game winners of five of their last six — through two periods.
But the Rangers scored on the opening shift of the third period to break the tie, got another 5:30 later, and edged past Florida, 4-3, for their sixth win in seven games. They improve their record to 9-8-0, the first time this season New York’s record is above the .500 mark.
“We started feeling better about ourselves last few weeks, and now the results are coming for us,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “It was an important two points for us.”
The Panthers drop to 3-11-4, losers of nine straight (0-5-4). They haven’t won since October 19, and haven’t won on the road since an opening-night 4-2 triumph at Dallas on October 3.
It wasn’t the Rangers’ prettiest win of the season, nor their best performance. But it was enough to send interim Panthers coach Peter Horachek to his second loss since taking over the team Friday morning.
“You’re not going to win games if you turn pucks over, and we’re not going to get better until we decide we’re going to manage the puck better,” said Horachek. “Those are unforced errors. You can’t win hockey games that way.”
Brad Richards, who hadn’t scored since October 24 – a span of eight games – finally cashed in 46 seconds into the third when he wristed the puck past Tim Thomas (18 saves) off a feed from Carl Hagelin. After smashing and shattering his stick against the net when he missed a tap-in during the second period, Richards punched the glass behind the net in celebration.
“I was frustrated because I just felt the last few games I’ve had some good chances,” Richards said. “Tonight, sometimes you don’t capitalize on those – especially when Hags gave you an open net. Sometimes they come back and bite you. I got lucky to get another one. Good time to go in and take a deep breath after the second period. Hags made another nice play — surprised he kept giving it to me, I kept messing up.”
“A player of his caliber and his experience, he understands that’s going to happen,” Vigneault said of Richards. “He whiffed on the shot, he had an open net. Sometimes that happens. But there’s still a lot of game to be played. You expect a player of his experience to continue to play and continue to play well. That’s an unreal shot he took to enable us to take a one-goal lead.”
And the Rangers power play – beleaguered last season – sent the team to a two-goal advantage 5:30 later when Richards fed Zuccarello with the Rangers on a two-man advantage. Zuccarello’s shot got past Thomas for New York’s league-leading third 5-on-3 goal of the season.
“It feels like a power play. It didn’t feel like much of a power play last year,” Richards said. “We have a purpose out there, and it’s the same power play every night. We can work together on it. It’s good in practice, we practice it every day. The guys on it, everybody’s communicating in practice and everybody has a voice in it. It’s fun to be cohesive like that.”
The man advantage was 1-3 tonight, and is now 13th in the league at 19.6%.
“We spent a lot of time on [the power play], we know the importance of that,” Vigneault said. “It’s execution, it’s winning puck-battles, and when you have a lane, you need to shoot the puck and get people in front of the net. Our guys have been doing a pretty good job at that.”
The Rangers snapped their nine-game streak of allowing two goals or fewer when Brian Campbell deposited a rebound with 7:03 left in the third period for his second goal of the game.
The Rangers have scored four goals or more in each of their last three games, and in four of their last five.
Richards has seven points (1-6-7) in his last seven games.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (24 saves) improved to 5-3-0 in his last eight games with a 1.64 GAA and .936 sv% over that span.
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