Panthers Stay Hot, Top Rangers in Thriller

SUNRISE, Fla. – Kris Versteeg, Jason Garrison, and Tomas Fleischmann are at the top of their games right now. Versteeg extended his team lead in goals to 12 with the help of Fleischmann as the Florida Panthers topped the New York Rangers 2-1 at the BankAtlantic Center.

Garrison also had the help of Fleischmann, in adding to his already reached career high in goals.

Versteeg’s goal came just 1:09 into the second period, as Fleischmann skated the puck behind the Rangers net. He drop-passed behind his back to Versteeg, who caught Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist off guard. His top-shelf shot put the Panthers on top 2-0.

Earlier in the game, after the Rangers’ Ryan Callahan took a roughing penalty, the Panthers had possession of the puck in the offensive end. Fleischmann sent a beautiful pass to the point where defenseman Brian Campbell was manning the left side. Campbell passed it across to Garrison, who ripped a laser from 55 feet out. Lundqvist seemingly had no time to react and the Panthers were on the board 1-0 10:06 into the frame. It was Garrison’s eighth goal of the season.

“It was right by my face. I’m just glad it didn’t hit me,” Versteeg said of Garrison’s hard shot. “You can’t [react]. He hits it at perfect height. Guys don’t want to get in front of it.”

Campbell has assisted on all of Garrison’s goals this season.

“He’s helped me out a lot, not just what you see on the ice. He talks to me a lot and helps me out with the game. I couldn’t do it without him,” Garrison said.

Later in the period, Garrison had another chance from roughly the same spot, but his shot was just high, ringing off the crossbar.

The Rangers put forth a comeback attempt in the second period, as Derek Stepan, playing in his 100th game, skated down the left side. Just in front of the left faceoff dot, he fired an easy wrist shot past Jose Theodore. His fourth goal cut the Panthers lead in half to 2-1 just 4:18 into the period.

Midway through the second period, Tomas Fleischmann was skating with the puck in the neutral zone. Andre Deveaux knocked him down to the ice with an elbow to the head. Fleischmann missed the next few shifts, but was back on the ice by the end of the period. Deveaux was sent to the dressing room early, receiving a match penalty for an intentional hit to the head.

“Every year the NHL puts out a video on what is legal and not legal,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “There’s a guy that’s only played a few games in the NHL. You can see it. The referees made the right call.

At the end of the year, you make a tape of what’s really wrong with the game, that would be one of them.”

The Rangers could not get the offense going, ending up with only 20 shots on goal. Theodore was up to the task, stopping 19 of the 20 total shots he faced, those shots, including a huge glove save off a point shot with under a minute remaining and Lundqvist pulled.
The red-hot Panthers have won three in a row and six out of seven. Their 13-3-5 record is their best 21 game start since the 1996-97 season.

The Panthers get back on the ice Friday, after enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. Faceoff from the BankAtlantic Center is at 7:30 against their in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning. Florida looks to continue their perfect homestand. This is the last time the Lightning will travel south for a game this season.

CAT BYTES:

  • Forward Marcel Goc missed his fourth consecutive game with an upper body injury.
  • Garrison now has more goals than the last two seasons combined. He has eight this season, and had seven over the past two years.
  • Fleischmann and Versteeg each have three-game point streaks. The two have combined for eight points over the streak
  • For Lundqvist, this was his first loss after a streak of five consecutive wins dating back to November 9 against the Anaheim Ducks.
  • The Panthers remain in second place in the Eastern Conference, and first in the Southeast Division.
  • During the game, the Panthers announced long-term extensions to their broadcast team. Steve Goldstein and Billy Lindsay remain in the television booth, with Randy Moller on the radio side.

THREE STARS:

  1. Tomas Fleischmann (FLA) 2 A
  2. Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) L, 36 SV
  3. Jason Garrison (FLA) G

Justin Cohen is the Florida Panthers beat reporter for Inside Hockey. He can be reached at jcohen@insidehockey.com, or you can follow him on twitter @IHPanthers.

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