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Boyle's third-period goal leads Rangers past Panthers

by Mike G. Morreale

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist knew his team had more to give prior to the start of third period against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on Monday.

The Rangers proved their goalie prophetic when Dan Boyle, Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash scored to highlight a three-goal period to give the Rangers a 6-3 victory.

Boyle's goal, his sixth of the season, broke a 3-3 tie at 8:10. After picking up the puck along the left-wing boards in the Florida end, the defenseman sent a harmless-looking snap shot from the top of the left circle that deflected off the stick of defenseman Willie Mitchell in the slot and under a stunned Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.

"The only thing I could think of on Boyle's goal was why didn't that happen for us last year [when Mitchell was a member of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings]," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Hockey is a funny game sometimes. There were a lot of deflections; some nights you have pucks go in like this."

Zuccarello then scored his first goal in 11 games at 15:58 when he controlled a rebound in the crease, deftly kicked the puck to his stick and roofed a shot into the left corner past Luongo for a 5-3 advantage.

"I'm more of a passer so I don't really care who scores," Zuccarello said. "I can feel the pressure from you guys and everyone around to score some goals so obviously I'd like to score some more goals as well."

Nash scored two goals, his 30th and 31st, including an empty-net goal with 1:53 remaining in the game.

"It's a nice accomplishment [to score 30 goals]," Nash said. "It just shows how good my linemates are and how good the team is doing. Personal success always comes after team success."

Nash scored 30 goals for the eighth time in his career. Only Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Colorado Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla (10 seasons) and Ilya Kovalchuk (nine seasons) have more 30-plus goal seasons since 2002-03.

The Rangers (29-15-4) also got goals from Kevin Hayes and Marc Staal and Lundqvist finished with 33 saves.

"We all felt like we had more to give after the second period [and the game tied 3-3]," Lundqvist said. "When we played with our speed and really focused on our passing, we gave them a lot of trouble and really created a lot of chances and that's something we wanted to do in the third."

The Rangers held a 21-14 advantage in shots in the third. Aleksander Barkov, Dave Bolland and Brandon Pirri scored for the Panthers. Luongo made 32 saves.

"Good teams find ways to win games even when they don't play their best," Zuccarello said.

After spotting the Rangers a 3-1 lead, the Panthers pulled even on goals by Bolland and Pirri. The teams combined for four goals on 18 shots in the second period. Bolland batted home a shot that deflected off the skate of Staal and the crossbar at the left post at 12:51. Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle lost his stick on the play and Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes could not clear the puck.

Pirri then scored a power play goal off a snap shot at 15:30 for a 3-3 tie. His seventh of the season was off a picturesque feed from Bolland from low in the left circle to the opposite circle.

"We battled back but again it's not enough," Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad said. "We have to be mentally prepared for a whole game and not a few periods. That's what happens in this League if you're not prepared for a full game; it was a tough loss.

"Every game is a must-win at this point. It's not in our favor losing a game like that but can't dwell too much on it."

The Panthers (21-17-10), who are 1-6-1 in their past eight games, close out their three-game road trip against the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

"We have to have an effort for 60 minutes and that's not what we're doing right now," Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. "We didn't play bad; we were on them in the second period so why not do that again in the third?"

The Rangers scored two goals in the opening 9:28 of the second to take a 3-1 lead.

Hayes gave the Rangers their first lead 2:51 into the second with the first power-play goal of his NHL career. After taking a pass from Zuccarello in the slot, Hayes ripped a slap shot past Luongo. Staal then converted a cross-ice pass from Jesper Fast at 9:28 from the top of the right circle; the puck deflected off the stick of Sean Bergenheim past Luongo on the short side.

Nash scored a shorthanded goal midway through the first to pull the Rangers into a 1-1 tie.

After Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi was whistled for tripping at 7:49, Nash forced a turnover in his own end and skated past rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad at center ice before beating Luongo on a deke off a breakaway at 8:49.

The Panthers, who have had slow starts in previous games, had the foot on the gas pedal to open the first period. Barkov gave the visitors a 1-0 lead off a wrist shot in the slot at 4:09 after taking a feed from behind the net from Brad Boyes. Barkov's goal gave him 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his past 12 games.

The Rangers, who won their second straight game and fifth in the past seven, close out a four-game homestand against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday before traveling to the Nashville Predators on Saturday. The Rangers have won nine of their past 11 games against the Panthers.

"I think we stuck with the game plan," Nash said. "It was a huge game for [Florida] and it was a huge game for us. We are getting to that point in the season where we've got to be desperate for points. Playing in the third, we didn't have as many turnovers as we did in the first two periods."

Vigneault agreed.

"We had a couple [line] changes as game went on and couple turnovers gave them momentum but we stuck with it even though they tied it up," Vigneault said. "In the third with the game was on the line we played our best period of the night. It's about finding ways to win and that's what we did."


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