NEW YORK -- After going more than eight games without a goal, Brad Richards admitted he was frustrated. His emotions boiled over as he smashed his stick against the Florida Panthers' net after missing an open net late in the second period.
In the third, the veteran center responded with one of his best periods of the season.
Richards scored the go-ahead goal 46 seconds into the third and set up Mats Zuccarello's eventual game-winner 5:30 later to lead the New York Rangers to a 4-3 win against the Panthers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
The irritating sequence for Richards started with 4:14 remaining in the second period of a 2-2 tie when he deflected Carl Hagelin's perfect cross-ice pass well wide of an open net. Moments later, he fired a shot from the slot right into Thomas' belly before breaking his stick.
"I was frustrated. I felt the last couple of games I had some good chances," Richards said. "I'm surprised [Hagelin] kept giving it to me, I kept messing it up."
The Rangers opened the scoring 9:49 into the game on an impressive passing sequence. Miller entered the Florida zone and dropped a pass to Ryan McDonagh. He deked around Krys Barch at the blue line before making a cross-ice pass to a streaking Chris Kreider, who found Miller on the left wing with an open net. Miller made no mistake to score his first of the season 9:49 into the period. The play started when Derek Dorsett hooked Scottie Upshall's stick to force a turnover.
"You're not going to win games if you turn pucks over. We're not going to get better until we decide we're going to manage the puck," Horachek said. "Those are unforced errors and you can't win hockey games that way. It's unacceptable."
The Panthers evened the score in the closing moments of the opening period with Brian Boyle off for hooking. Tom Gilbert fired a shot from the left circle that was kicked out by Lundqvist. The rebound went straight to Kris Versteeg, who was stopped on a sprawling save. But Barkov found another rebound and beat an out-of-position Lundqvist for his fourth of the season with 27 seconds left.
The goal came after Florida, which entered the game with a League-worst 8.5 percent success rate on the power play, had failed to score in its previous 11 man-advantage opportunities.
The Panthers tested Lundqvist frequently at the start of the second period, outshooting New York 10-3 in the first 10 minutes. Starting with 12:41 left in the second, Lundqvist made big saves 30 seconds apart on points from the slot by Gilbert and Versteeg.
"We knew we weren't our best. Hank made a couple of huge saves," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. "That's why we love him back there. He keeps us in the game when we're struggling a little bit."
That pressure eventually paid off for Florida. Campbell's point shot was deflected at the side of the net before hitting the left post and bouncing off Lundqvist's back and into the net with 8:40 remaining in the second. It gave Horachek his first lead as Panthers coach.
But the lead wouldn't last, though; New York replied 2:38 later.
Dorsett initially lost the puck while backing his way out from behind Thomas' net, then found the puck again and fired a shot from in close that was stopped. But Dorsett put the rebound between Thomas' legs at 13:58 for his second goal of the season.
"That second effort he had on the goal paid off for us," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "It got us back when we were down by a goal."
Richards gave New York the lead for good after Hagelin stole the puck from Dmitry Kulikov in the Panthers' zone. He fed Richards, who sped down the left wing and beat Thomas wide to the top corner for his team-leading sixth goal of the season.
Versteeg and Kulikov then took penalties 53 seconds apart, setting the stage for Zuccarello's goal with 24 seconds remaining on the 5-on-3 advantage. Zuccarello's one-timer from the right circle off a Richards pass went under Thomas' right arm for his second of the season 6:16 into the third.
The Rangers' power play is 6-for-24 in the past seven games. The 25-percent success rate in that span is a marked improvement for a team that ranked 23rd on the power play last season at 15.7 percent.
"It feels like a power play. It didn't feel like much of a power play last year," Richards said. "We practice it every day, everybody is communicating in practice. Everybody has a voice on it."
Campbell fired a high shot past Lundqvist with 7:03 remaining to make it a one-goal game. It also marked the first time in 10 games that the Rangers have allowed more than two goals. But the Panthers could not get the equalizer, even with Thomas pulled for an extra attacker and Kreider in the box for cross-checking for the final 1:15 of regulation.
After the Rangers improved to 4-2-0 at Madison Square Garden, where his team plays three of its next four games, Vigneault was quick to praise Richards' ability to lead the team after missing a prime scoring opportunity in the second.
"He whiffed on the shot, he had an open net. Sometimes that happens. But, there is still a lot of game to be played," Vigneault said. "You expect a player of his experience to continue to play well. That was an unreal shot that he took there that enabled us to get a one-goal lead."
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