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Lundqvist plays soft in first-half finale

Prior to last night’s 4-3 loss, coach John Tortorella admitted to being concerned his players might have mentally checked out before the game, already daydreaming about the All-Star break.

Panthers 4, Rangers 3



The theme that emanated from a tired and battered New York Rangers dressing room was anger.


Anger that an opportunity to continue its ascent in the Eastern Conference passed them by. Anger that a non-descript Florida Panthers squad had come into The Garden and left with two points. Anger that the Panthers scored four times—markers described by John Tortorella as “fluky,”—against their All-Star netminder.


That the Rangers enter the All-Star break furious following a 4-3 loss last night is nothing short of a positive for a group that not much was expected from prior to the season.


“I don’t think they had any business winning this game,” a clearly irritated Henrik Lundqvist said. “The goals they scored…the luck they had…it’s bothering me a lot right now. The first goal hit our guy. The second goal hit a glove or something. The last goal, like that, they definitely had the luck to win this game.”


The Rangers outshot Florida 35-17, were able to skate through the neutral zone and implement their forecheck and cycle game against a team that was content to play trap hockey. That the Panthers won had everything to do with Tomas Vokoun


“There have been a few nights this year where we’ve left the building having outplayed the opponent and left with no points. We were on the other end of that. I guess those kind of things even out,” admitted Panthers coach Peter DeBoer. “We got some luck around the net. We shot the puck. You are not going to get many goals on Lundqvist like we got tonight, but we’ll take them.”


A long Rostislav Olesz shot deflected off of Artem Anisimov’s stick and past Lundqvist 12:35 into the game. After Derek Stepan softly backhanded a Wojtek Wolski rebound into a half-empty net to tie the game at 1-1 2:17 into the second, Keaton Ellerby and Mike Santorelli scored consecutive goals in a span of 1:08. Ellerby’s goal—he threw the puck at the net from the half boards—was his first in the NHL.


“The second one…the second one is a kick in the teeth,” Tortorella said of Ellerby’s goal. “That’s a tough one. That changed momentum.”


The Rangers evened the game at 3-3 early in the third period. Brandon Prust was credited with his seventh goal of the season when a Mike Sauer shot hit his stick and deflected past Vokoun 74 seconds in. Brian Boyle shoved his team-leading 18th goal under Vokoun at 3:05.


“I want to be a leader and be a contributor. My role has kind of changed throughout the year,” Boyle said. “I want to create offensive chances every night. I want to score every night. I am getting the opportunities to do it, so it is big responsibility.”


The game stayed tied until Mike Weaver’s pop-up deflected off of the top of Lundqvist’s glove and into the net with 8:19 left for the game-winning goal.


“They just had all the luck they could have,” lamented Lundqvist.


While the Rangers were collectively irritated, the acknowledged the bigger picture. The Rangers head into the All-Star Break with 61 points and are positioned well in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Rangers are sixth place in the East, two behind fifth seed Washington and trail fourth seeded Pittsburgh by five.


Most importantly, for a team that has been a patchwork menagerie for six weeks, the Rangers are due to get its injured core players back for the final 30 games. Tortorella said before the game that Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi will be the first players to return.


“I feel good about our club,” Tortorella said. “I feel good about our club, especially what we’ve gone through in really being decimated with injuries.”




What we saw ...

1
Asleep at the wheel
— Prior to last night’s 4-3 loss, coach John Tortorella admitted to being concerned his players might have mentally checked out before the game, already daydreaming about the All-Star break. The Rangers skated, shot and were able to generate offense off the forecheck and cycle, but Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t sharp. The goals Florida scored were soft and odd-angled, none more so than Mike Weaver’s first goal in 42 games, which turned out to be the game-winner. The puck bounced off Rangers forward Artem Anisimov and past Lundqvist to break a 3-3 tie with 8:19 left. It is illogical to ascribe long-term concern about Lundqvist, as he has been among the league’s best goaltenders this season. Still, with the games gaining in importance starting Feb. 1, he’ll need to be at his best in order for this team to have a long spring. He can’t concede four goals on just 17 shots like he did last night.

2 Usual suspects — There have been a multitude of players that have stepped up for the Rangers in the first half of the season, none more than checking line center Brian Boyle and left wing Brandon Prust. The duo each scored a goal in the first three minutes of the third period to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 tie. Prust’s goal, in which the puck deflected in off his thigh, was his seventh of the season, while Boyle’s power-play tally was his team-leading 18th marker.

3 Missing key cogs — Perhaps this outcome should have been expected for a team playing its fifth game in seven nights and has been patchwork for about six weeks. The Rangers had five AHL call-ups dress last night, including Mats Zuccarello, who assisted on all three Rangers goals and looks to be a keeper even when the injured starters return to the team in the second half.

 
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