New York Rangers coach John Tortorella worried about his team's energy level coming off such a hyped Winter Classic and the hoopla surrounding it. For about half of the first period against the Florida Panthers, his worries shown through as the Rangers were out of sync and had trouble getting the puck out of their own end. But from that point forward, the Blueshirts kicked it into high gear -- though the score might not show it fully -- ultimately prevailing 3-2 in overtime via a Marian Gaborik goal. They have a one-point edge on the Vancouver Canucks for the NHL's best record.
Proof that the Rangers weren't on their game in their first game back home on home ice in nine days and their first after the NHL's biggest regular season game was the goal by Marcel Goc. Stu Bickel got caught on an offensive-zone pinch and the Panthers converted on a two-on-one tic-tac-toe feed with Marc Staal defending -- and looking a bit rusty in doing so.
But then the Rangers found their legs midway through the frame. Anton Stralman tied the game up -- his first goal in 11 months -- with just under three minutes remaining in the period on a soft wrist shot with traffic in front that Scott Clemmensen didn't get a good read on.
The second period was a scoreless one and quite possibly the most evenly-played period as the shots finished at eight to five in favor of the Rangers. New York had 16 shots in the first period and finished with a 41-21 advantage in the game. Clemmensen was very solid in net; Martin Biron made the saves he needed to make, but most likely would want the one he gave up in the third period back.
After the Rangers went ahead at 4:24 of the third on a Ryan Callahan skate-deflection power-play goal off a Brad Richards point shot, it looked like the Rangers had this game for the taking. All they'd need to do is protect the puck and pressure up the ice enough, but not necessarily force the issue. Well, the Panthers scored 36 seconds later as some weak defensive work -- oddly, nobody took the body and Michael Del Zotto flailed at the incoming forward --led to a Mike Santorelli goal on the short side. Despite the weak effort on defense, Biron let up a weak goal.
Even after the onslaught in the third period in which the Rangers dictated the pace, they could not break through again. But they stuck with it in overtime as Del Zotto fed Derek Stepan up the ice who dropped the puck back to Gaborik for the rocket shot just inside the blue line and to the far post.
The Blueshirts have now won three straight and eight of their last nine games. At least in this game, any worry of a letdown was avoided. The Rangers will rock-and-roll against another one of the Eastern Conference's elite tomorrow night on the road in Pittsburgh.