NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 25: Dmitry Kulikov #7 of the Florida Panthers is checked by Brian Boyle #22 of the New York Rangers during the second period at Madison Square Garden on January 25 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Luck has gone the Rangers' way, for the most part, all season long. Unfortunately that was not the case against the Florida Panthers tonight at Madison Square Garden. I am not looking for excuses here, but a few unfortunate bounces were the difference in this game, and those bounces were not in favor of the Blueshirts. Not being able to gain these two points was not how New York wanted to enter the weeklong All-Star break, that's for sure.
The bad luck began at 12:35 of the first period when Rostislav Olesz lasered a one-timer to the back of the net, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Upon reviewing the play, it was evident that the shot barely ticked off Artem Anisimov's stick before reaching the net, which changed the flight path of the puck and threw Henrik Lundqvist off. That would be the only goal that was scored in the first period, despite the Rangers completely dominating play in the offensive zone.
Two minutes into the second period, Derek Stepan tied the game at one when he swatted in a rebound for his 14th goal of the season. The Panthers would strike back (twice) when they scored back-to-back goals just 46 seconds apart. The first came off a Keaton Ellerby point shot that sailed through traffic and past Lundqvist. Ellerby just barely kept the puck inside the zone right before that goal was scored - it was a close call but it counted nonetheless.
Mike Santorelli then snuck behind the defense on the following shift, planted himself in font of the crease and buried his own rebound to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead. Again, the Rangers dominated play in the offensive zone in this period, but Tomas Vokoun shut the door on most chances and Florida entered the intermission ahead on the scoreboard.
It only took three minutes for the Rangers to perform their usual third period rally, as Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle both scored early in the stanza to bring the game to a 3-3 tie. It remained that way until 11:41 when Mike Weaver's wrister went off the back of Anisimov, over Lundqvist and into the net. That turned out to be the dagger in New York's heart, as the Panthers went on to win 4-3.
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You could say Henrik Lundqvist looked a little shaky tonight, but I think he was unlucky more than anything. I mean, Anisimov scored on him twice, he had no support on the Santorelli goal and he did not even see Keaton Ellerby's shot in the second period. The fans were sarcastically cheering him when he made saves, and quite honestly I do not understand why.
Hank also had an interesting comment when John Giannone of MSG Network asked him to talk about Florida's only shot in the third period going in...
"They [Panthers] had more than one shot," said Lundqvist. "The guy counting the shots was probably drunk again"
I thought Sean Avery and Mats Zuccarello had great games offensively tonight. Avery did not get on the scoresheet, but he was very strong when skating with the puck and was creating scoring chances constantly. Zuccarello, on the other hand, recorded three assists and continues his incredible play.
Michael Del Zotto, in my opinion, was the best defensemen on the ice for the Rangers tonight. He made a few stellar outlet passes and was lights out on defense as well. Tortorella went on to say in his postgame presser that MDZ played "very well", which should certainly be a confidence boost for Del Zotto.
So the Rangers will remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 29-20-3. They will be off until February 1st when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first game following the All-Star break, which makes this loss that much more depressing - especially since they deserved to win.
Also, Del Zotto, Kolarik, Newbury, Grachev and Dupont have all been returned to Connecticut (AHL).