The sign of a winning team is one that bounces back after an atypical performance. Friday night against the Florida Panthers, the New York Rangers did just that, scoring three times in the first period en route to a rather easy 4-1 victory Friday night. New York has regained first place in the Eastern Conference and is the first team in the NHL to have 50 points.
In their game two nights prior against the Washington Capitals, the Blueshirts were sloppy with the puck in vulnerable situations and their opponent cashed in on goals. The usually-surehanded squad, who has not been none for throwing passes into susceptible areas, committed three giveaways that led directly to goals.
But in their road game versus Florida, New York left no doubt that they were turning the page on a down performance, lighting the lamp 35 seconds into the game. Carl Hagelin deflected in Ryan Callahan's pass at the front of the net to give the Rangers a 1-0 edge. Ryan McDonagh's work along the defensive-zone boards and pass to Callahan also can't be discounted. Hagelin had a goal and an assist in the win.
Less than five minutes later, Brad Richards sniped a goal to to the far post as a pass from Jeff Woywitka hit off a Florida player to lead him on a break. And at 15:37, Michael Del Zotto converted a beautiful cross-ice pass from Richards to the weak side, slapping a puck that changed its original angle as a Panther deflected it, beating Scott Clemmensn and ultimately ending his night. Del Zotto was a plus-two on the night and is tied for the league lead with a plus-25. He also played a team-high 28:11. New York had 15 of its 25 shots in the second period.
The Rangers' game expectedly slipped a bit in the second and third periods, but got some sensational goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist to keep the cushion. Brandon Dubinsky's power back-hand move 7:41 into the second period pushed the Blueshirts' lead to 4-0 and gave his third of his four goals in five games. He also has five points in that span as his game has really elevated over the past couple of weeks.
Matt Bradley would score about two minutes later on a Dubinsky turnover as McDonagh couldn't get a handle on the puck in front.
The third period was all about Lundqvist, as his teammates only managed two shots and the Panthers had nine. It's the type of third-period performance that reminds you just how lucky New York is to have a world-class netminder to rely on and is the biggest reason why it has legitimate playoff aspirations. He made 27 saves in the win.
The one negative to this game was that the Rangers took four penalties against a very good power play. The kill was great, though, but it's never a good idea to play around like that and expect to win every night.
Instead of heading to the Winter Classic with two losses, the Rangers will now face the Philadelphia Flyers at Citizens Bank Park with a feel-good win.