The New York Rangers' recent run of late-game heroics came to a frustrating halt Tuesday night in a 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, as they learned the hard way that sometimes it's better to be lucky than be good.
Down two goals in the third period, the New York Rangers scored twice by the three-minute mark of the period and allowed just one shot on goal the entire frame. That shot, though, was an innocent wrister about a foot wide of the net by Mike Weaver that hit Artem Anisimov high in the back and floated over an unsuspecting Henrik Lundqvist and over the goal line. Despite the furious late flurry by the Rangers, the deficit proved to be too much to overcome.
The Rangers greatly outplayed the Panthers for the majority of the tilt, but the game isn't decided on effort, it's decided by the amount of times you put the puck in the net. On this night the Panthers started the scoring in the first period (despite a 12-4 shot advantage in favor the Rangers) with a slap-shot goal by Rostislav Olesz that Lundqvist had teed up for the save, only to see it redirect off of Anisimov's stick. Anisimov had his stick down to block the shot, but unfortunately didn't get enough of the puck to fully deflect it away.
Derek Stepan would net his 14th goal -- finally, after a number of chances -- just over two minutes into the second period on a rebound effort off of Wojtek Wolski's shot. However, Florida would regain its lead less than a minute later on a shot by Keaton Ellerby in which Lundqvist was screened.
The Rangers came out in the third looking revitalized, with a new energy and took it too the Panthers. Their wounded warrior, Brandon Prust, scored 1:14 into the period on a tip-in, and Brian Boyle did the dirty work in front of the net during the power play to record his team-leading 18th goal. Mats Zuccarello also had one of his three assists in the game on Boyle's equalizer, which would be all New York could get past the steady Tomas Vokoun in the third.
To come back so spirited in the third period -- in a game in which they outshot the Panthers, 35-17, and allowed just one in the game's final 20 minutes -- and see it come crashing down, is heartbreaking for a team that was looking for another feel-good win entering the break.
In a week, though, the Rangers look to have at least Ryan Callahan, (maybe) Vinny Prospal and Dan Girardi back in their lineup. (After the game, the Rangers announced that Callahan and Prospal were both activated from injured reserve). Despite the amount of injuries -- 193 man-games altogether -- the Rangers find themselves at sixth place in the tightly-packed East and they should very much feel good about what they accomplished in their 52 games so far.
Tonight's loss is a tough one to swallow, but it shouldn't overshadow the foundation this team has built entering the second half.