Rangers fall to Panthers in possible playoff preview

NHL: Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

While the calendar reads early March, Monday’s game between the NHL’s best New York Rangers and Florida Panthers at The Garden felt like May with much higher stakes.

The Rangers held their own but ultimately fell to the Panthers, 4-2, in the final game before Friday’s trade deadline.

Despite playing the best hockey of his season over the last five weeks, the game-winning goal was one the Igor Shesterkin of January would even feel was a poor one.

Related: Expect Rangers to send players to Wolf Pack ahead of deadline

Florida Panthers 4 vs New York Rangers 2

NHL: Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

After a controversial non-call in the Panthers’ zone, Ryan Lomberg’s long wrist shot from just inside the Rangers’ blueline beat Shesterkin over the glove 6:11 into the third period.

“[The goal] materialized because there was a call that was missed,” head coach Peter Laviolette said before adding the puck grazed off Jacob Trouba.

Will Cuylle scored the first power play goal of his career 16:39 into the contest when he banged home a rebound off a Trouba shot through Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Rangers a 1-0 advantage.

New York held the lead until midway through the second when Sam Reinhart scored twice in 2:45, the second coming off an impressive pass from Aleksander Barkov, who knocked a puck out of the air and fed Reinhart while falling to the ice.

The Rangers power play struck again late in the second period after Braden Schneider was cut by a high stick. Similar to Cuylle’s tally, Chris Kreider slid a loose puck under a stretched Bobrovsky for his 31st goal of the season.

Artemi Panarin registered his 50th assist of the season on the play. It was his third straight 50 assist season, becoming the third player in Rangers history to do so (Wayne Gretzky 1996-97 to 1998-99 and Mark Messier 1991-92 – 1992-94).

New York’s lack of production at 5-on-5 continued, as they were outscored 2-0 at even strength. The Vincent Trocheck line, which had been powering the offense, was held off the scoresheet away from the power play.

The Rangers had just six shots on goal in the third period and generated just 16 even strength shots on goal.

“Once they got the lead, they clogged down the neutral zone with the lock,” Laviolette said. “We needed to move the puck quicker. I don’t think we did a very good job .. once they got the lead.”

New York are now losers of three of their last four games following their franchise record-tying 10-game winning streak last month.

Chris Drury got one final look at how his club matched up against arguably the best team in the NHL. There are holes. Will he get them filled? As of tonight, reports have surfaced that the Rangers are working on a trade for Seattle Kraken center Alexander Wennberg and targeting Anaheim Ducks winger Frank Vatrano.

With four days until Saturday’s tilt with the St. Louis Blues, players will take the team to heal with one eye on their phones to learn of any new teammates that could be joining them.

“It’s rare you get four days in a season without a game,” said Trocheck, who had an assist. “We’ll take some time to get some rest and heal any bruises. If we make a trade … everybody is aware of it. Just going to take whatever it is in stride and roll with the punches.”

Matt Calamia spent six seasons as a digital content producer and writer for the New York Rangers. Prior to... More about Matt Calamia

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