Panthers Fall Flat to Rangers

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers allowed three first period goals and could never recover, ultimately falling to the New York Rangers 4-1 at the BankAtlantic Center Friday night.

“We weren’t ready for the game,” forward Matt Bradley said. “There’s absolutely no excuse for that.”

The Rangers scored early and often in the opening frame, with Ryan Callahan bringing the puck all the way up the ice just 35 seconds in. He shot the puck from the left side where rookie Carl Hagelin deflected it past Panthers’ goalie Scott Clemmensen. Hagelin’s 7th goal of the season made the score 1-0 Rangers before many of the 20,238 fans could find their seats.

“You’re playing one of the top teams in the conference. I thought we would be better prepared than we were,” coach Kevin Dineen said.

The Panthers couldn’t settle down, as New York dominated puck possession and outshot the Cats 15-7 in the opening frame. Just five minutes into the game, as Brad Richards took a loose puck from the center circle. He skated down the right side and shot the puck to his left, beating Clemmensen top shelf. For Richards, it was his 13th goal of the season and the Rangers found themselves with a nice early two goal cushion.

They didn’t stop pushing though, and ultimately knocked Clemmensen out of the game as Richards passed the puck from the right side boards to the left point where Michael Del Zotto came in a few steps to wrist the puck past the Panthers goalie to make the score 3-0 on his fifth goal at the 15:37 mark.

“That was the first time I had to pull somebody in the middle of a [period] but we needed better goaltending for us to have a chance in that game tonight,” Dineen said.

José Théodore, who was slated to be the starter in net for Florida tomorrow, found him self getting extra work in, as he plated the final 43 minutes of the game.

7:41 into the second period, Brandon Dubinski took the puck on the left side. He was harassed by Kris Versteeg but managed to get around him and into the slot where he let a soft backahnder go. It was good for his fourth of the season and gave the Rangers a commanding 4-0 lead.

The Rangers’ offense turned off, but the Panthers continued to put the pressure on, only allowing a Bradley goal 9:28 into the period. It was his second of the season.

Despite outshooting the Rangers 9-2 in the third period, Henrik Lundqvist was solid in net, stopping a total of 27 shots on the night.

The end of the game was not without controversy. With just eight seconds remaining in the game, Tomas Kopecky took the butt of Del Zotto’s stick. He replied by punching him in the face.

‘”It was a sucker punch.He got what he deserved,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “Sometimes there’s no honor. I just wish the players could police themselves.”

Fighting ensued with Krys Barch earning a 10 minute misconduct, Kopecky earning a match penalty, Mike Rupp receiving a fighting major and game misconduct, and Del Zotto earning the original high sticking call.

Rupp’s penalties came after he attempted to beat down Kopecky in retaliation. Kopecky was trying to get away and was punched in the head multiple times.

“The guy got what he deserved,” Dineen countered. “Guys that play 5 minutes a night, that’s typical that they’re going to go out there and try to grab our skill players.”

Barch indicated it’s not over, saying “That’s just not allowed to go on. We’ll take care of that next week.” The Rangers and Panthers meet again on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

For now, the Panthers will focus on their game tomorrow against the Montreal Canadiens. Faceoff will be at 7:00 and will be broadcasted on CBC throughout Canada.

CAT BYTES:

  • Sean Avery was waived by the Rangers prior to the game.
  • The Panthers have not made any progress on the John Madden front. If he does sign with the team, it will most likely be early next week.
  • The Panthers did make one signing today, inking Mike Weaver to a 2 year extension.

“Mike is a high-character, hard-working defenseman who we are glad to have re-signed,” said General Manager Dale Tallon in a statement. “He is a responsible player, who has proven to play an integral role on our penalty kill. We look forward to his continued contributions to our organization.”

“He was a guy last year that I used as an example for some of my players in the American league how to play defense. His character as a player is not always going to show up on the score sheet, but he’s one of those guys that goes out and consistently does a good job for us,” coach Kevin Dineen said.

“When we agreed on the contract, it’s amazing looking back what I’ve gone through to this point,” Weaver said.

despite his short 5′ 10″  179 lb. frame, the 33 year-old has played 459 career games, including 120 as a Panther. He also played with Atlanta, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and St. Louis previously.

THREE STARS:

1. Brad Richards (NYR) G, A

2. Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) 27 SV, W

3. Matt Bradley (FLA) G

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