With their playoff hopes in danger of taking a major hit, the New York Rangers stepped up with one of their best periods of the season.
The Rangers trailed Florida 1-0 entering the third period, but Mark Staal’s goal 18 seconds after the opening faceoff tied the score. Brandon Prust tied the game at 9:36, Chris Drury connected 90 seconds later and Marian Gaborik hit the empty net to finish off a desperately needed 4-1 victory on Saturday night.
“I think all game we were just kind of hanging around with not really that much going on,” said Staal, who scored a goal for the third consecutive game. “But we knew the third period would have to be our best, and we needed the points more than they (did); and we came out and had a great period.”
The win gives the Rangers 82 points in 78 games -- the same as eighth-place Philadelphia, which owns the tiebreaker because it has more victories. The Rangers are two points behind seventh-place Boston and four in back of sixth-place Montreal.
New York can move into eighth place on Sunday afternoon if the Flyers lose in regulation to Detroit at the Wachovia Center. The teams end the season with a home-and-home series Friday at Madison Square Garden and Sunday in Philadelphia.
New York is 20-15-4 on the road this season and 4-0-1 on its current trip, but only 16-17-6 at home.
"We've been a good road team all year long," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We wouldn't be in this situation if we handled ourselves a little bit better at home. We can't look back. ... We need to look ahead and stay consistent no matter where we're at right now."
The Rangers shook off a lethargic first two periods and blew out the Panthers in the third.
Staal tied it when he took a pass from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, skated well into the Panthers zone and zipped a shot from the high slot past goalie Scott Clemmensen to get the Rangers even.
“That was definitely the turning point in the game,” Prust said. “Staalsie going coast-to-coast. Everyone just jumped up on the bench because we had a new life.”
Florida coach Peter DeBoer agreed.
"That's exactly what they needed to get back in the game," DeBoer said. "The momentum obviously shifted on that play. We couldn't get it back."
The goal was Staal’s eighth of the season. He also scored against the Islanders on Tuesday and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.
“I don’t know what it is,” Staal said of his recent offensive prowess. “I am making a more conscious effort on hitting the net when I am taking shots, and that’s the biggest thing. And, of course, when you start scoring, that breeds confidence.”
Prust banged in a rebound from the top of the crease for his fourth of the season and second in two nights to put New York ahead.
“We were able to get it in deep and do what we usually do -- crash and bang and throw pucks to the net, and it paid off,” said Prust, who had the game-winning goal in each of the last two games. “Whether they’re game-winners or not, they’re always good to get.”
Drury’s goal gave the Rangers some breathing room, and Gaborik’s 41st of the season wrapped up the win.
“We had to get some ugly goals and, except for Staal’s goal, that’s what we got,” said Gaborik, who added an assist to go along with his goal on Saturday. “Get rebounds, get ugly. That’s what we did in the third period.”
Defenseman Keith Ballard beat Lundqvist at 6:38 of the second period to put the Panthers ahead. He beat Lundqvist from the left circle with a blast that hit the crossbar and dropped into the net just as Michal Rozsival’s penalty expired.
The Rangers had just 15 shots through two periods and mustered little in the way of scoring chances against a team that’s out of the playoff race.
“We were keeping positive energy,” Gaborik said. “We had played pretty good and had stayed right in there. We knew we had a chance (to come back) and that’s what we did. It’s exactly what you need at this time of the year.”
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report