The Florida Panthers realized that offense is their best defense, getting off 38 shots while restricting New York to only 20 for their first three game winning streak of the season. The Cats are now 3-0 on their current homestand, and look to finish it up with a fourth win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday, in the first game of a back-to-back home-and-home series. The Rangers head to Washington to take on the Capitals.
Dmitry Kulikov was scratched from the starting lineup late, allowing the Cats to dress both defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Keaton Ellerby. The two had been swapping off as the healthy scratch to this point in the season.
The Panthers came out strong, looking fast right from the jump. Evgeny Dadonov, Shawn Matthias, and of course the first line all looked ready to play. On their second shift of the night, Marco Sturm setup Tomas Kopecky with a cross ice pass right in front of the net but Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was sharp, and easily turned it away.
This was followed by a series of events whereupon Jason Garrison, Mike Santorelli, Mike Weaver and Michal Repik kept the puck in the Rangers zone for so long I thought it was a power play. They handed the puck over to Tomas Fleischmann who fed Kris Versteeg for a nice early opportunity.
A scuffle near the bench resulted in the Rangers Ryan Callahan getting a 2-minute minor penalty for roughing. It didn't take the Cats long to cash in on the man advantage, as Fleischmann and Brian Campbell fed Garrison on a one timer for his eighth goal of the season.
Michal Repik showed some good hustle, outmaneuvering two Rangers in their zone behind the net. He got the puck to Dadonov who fed Stephen Weiss on a good looking one timer.
Tim Kennedy looked good in the neutral zone, stealing the puck and shuffling it back to Campbell, who faked a Ranger out of his skates with his nifty little spin move. Santorelli soon after took a 2-minute minor for cross checking. The Rangers managed three shots on goal with the man advantage, but Kopecky twice cleared the puck out of the zone, keeping the Rangers off the board.
Just a minute after the start of the second period Ellerby and Fleischmann fed Versteeg for his 12th goal of the season. Just over a minute later, the Cats narrowly missed going up 3-0 when Michal Repik broke in on Lunqvist's right side and held on just a little too long.
Derek Stepan scored his fourth goal of the season on Jose Theodore with assists by Marian Gaborik and Ryan McDonagh, bringing the score to 2-1.
Kennedy took a two-minute minor for interference. Both Garrison and Weaver cleared the puck on separate PK chances. Dan Giriardi brought the puck back into the zone on a breakaway but could not get the shot on Theodore. Weiss was then called for a delay of game penalty, flipping the puck over the glass with 10 seconds remaining in on the prior PK. This resulted in a quick 5-on-3 followed by another 1:50 power play for the Rangers.
Garrison, Kopecky, Weaver and Campbell all cleared the puck, keeping the New Yorkers from closing the gap against Florida. After the Rangers power play ended, Shawn Matthias stole a neutral zone pass and managed to jump start a shift where the Cats got three shots on Lundqvist. After the Rangers finally broke it out of the zone, Andre Deveaux was assessed a five-minute match penalty against Fleischmann.
The Panthers got many chances on the long resultant power play, holding the puck in the offensive zone for almost the entire first four minutes of the penalty. The Rangers didn't allow the Panthers to add to their lead.
The Rangers Ryan Callahan got a breakaway opportunity, leveling a slapshot at Theodore that was easily turned away. Ellerby blocked a shot, and Dadonov took a body check and kept the puck out off of Ranger sticks.
Sean Avery was up to his old tricks, high-sticking Campbell and being assessed a two minute minor penalty. The Cats managed to keep the puck in the New York zone for the entire power play.
Callahan made another trip to the box for hooking. The Panthers again looked very strong on the power play, but could not convert against the strong netminding of Henrik Lundqvist.
After a few more trips up and down the ice, the Panthers turned on the defense, clearing the puck out of their own zone many times before the Rangers finally pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. With the net empty for the last minute of regulation play the Panthers limited the Rangers to only one shot on goal.
The third period ended with the Panthers allowing the Rangers only eight shots on goal to 17 for the Cats.
Jack Skille is skating with a lot of intensity. Even though he is not showing up on the score sheet, he is taking care of a lot of the intangible things that need to happen to win hockey games.
Tim Kennedy played his best game since being recalled from San Antonio. He only registered one shot on goal and finished with a minus-one rating, but was tenacious and cocky in the neutral zone.
Evgeny Dadonov looked strong all night. His quickness resulted in three quality chances in his eight minutes of time on ice.
Jose Theodore was strong in net, but hardly needed his "A" game against the Rangers, who only managed 20 shots on goal, including just four in the second period.
Erik Gudbranson got over 10 minutes on ice and really wanted a goal, taking five shots through the game. His five shots tied Stephen Weiss for the Panthers lead.
Brian Campbell leads all NHL defensemen with 17 assists, while Jason Garrison leads the leagues defensemen with eight goals.
The top line of Fleischmann-Weiss-Versteeg combined for three points, bringing their season total to 69 with a combined plus-43. The three all rank in the NHL's top 20 in points.
If Kopecky only played a man down, he would be an all-star in the NHL. He is like a magician getting the puck out of harm's way.
Fleischmann is a special talent with the puck. His stick looks like a blur at times, confusing both the defense and the camera.