Rangers 1, Panthers 0

The Rangers had dominated the Florida Panthers in every facet of the game but one for the first 52:11 last night at the Garden. After yet another shift in which the top line triumvirate of Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov forechecked and cycled the puck before Dubinsky shoved a pass from Callahan past an out-of-position Tomas Vokoun, the Rangers’ supremacy was complete.

Austerely, what occurred last night was a mismatch in every statistical and non-statistical category, save for one. And, even then, it felt as if the Rangers’ 1-0 win should have been far greater. The Rangers flexed their muscles, staked their claim to every inch of ice and would not allow their South Beach colleagues to play with the puck.

It is a win that portends well in the handful of games that remain in the regular campaign, and even more, in the vital games that it appears will be played starting in the second full week of April.

“I thought it was very important to win a game like that, this time of year. That’s what I was most happiest about,” John Tortorella said. “Our start was good.

“I was happy with the patience of the team to stay with it. Hank (Lundqvist) made a couple big saves at key times. I thought we defended really well. And just stayed with it.”

Lundqvist improved to 32-24-4 with his NHL-leading 10th shutout. He was not tested much — he only faced 22 shots — but was more than equal to the task when the firepower-less Panthers were able to get a shot through.

“We have a great system and when we stick to it, it is a lot easier for all of us. It starts with playing tough and winning battles and we did. It is fun. We are winning. We just have to keep it going,” a chipper Lundqvist said. “We are sticking to what we have been talking about and pucks are bouncing our way. Even thought you are winning, you can always improve.”

The Rangers, who have won seven of 10 this month, six of their last seven and five in a row, recognize the truism. Coinciding with the Canadiens’ 2-0 loss to Buffalo, the Rangers only trail sixth seed Montreal by three points. With a home date Thursday against 29th-best Ottawa and weekend road dates in Boston (who has lost six of ten) and Philadelphia (4-6 in their last 10), the prospect of jumping from sevenths into the Eastern Conference’s upper echelon before the playoffs begin is very real.

“There are no bad teams in this league. No game is an easy game. Ottawa, they have some young guys playing loose, playing well. We have to be ready for them. There are no easy games. It’s like Torts said, we have one game at a time. We can’t be looking ahead,” said Dan Girardi, who was plus-one in a very strong 24:04. “I think we have to worry about ourselves. We’d like to get high up in the standings but we have to win our games and not worry about what’s happening around the league. If we win our games, we control our own destiny.”

What went right ...

1 The challenge — The opportunity was ripe for a letdown. An ostensibly playoff-bound Rangers squad was a few hours away from the initial puck drop against a nondescript Florida team following a flurry of emotional wins over contenders. “We win a game and come back, a midweek game against a non-playoff team. It’s staring right at us,” John Tortorella said.

2 The response — Despite not scoring until Brandon Dubinsky slammed a rebound home with 7:49 left, the Rangers had leveled 32 pucks at Tomas Vokoun. They had spent so much time in the Panthers end, in fact, that the visitors might have found it apt to charge the home team rent. The lone goal may represent a regression to the mean, as the Rangers had exploded for 17 goals in the three wins before last night.

3 Brick wall
— One of the game’s truisms is that the goaltender who is often untested in a match is the one that’s due to yield a goal at an inopportune time. Henrik Lundqvist only faced 20 shots but didn’t break.

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