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Panthers rally to beat Rangers 2-1

by John Kreiser
John Tortorella's second game as New York Rangers coach was even more painful than his first.

The Rangers couldn't hold a 1-0 lead in the third period in Tortorella's debut Wednesday night in Toronto and lost in a shootout. One night later, they again couldn't hang onto a 1-0 lead in the third period against Florida -- but this time, they left Madison Square Garden empty-handed after David Booth and Nathan Horton scored on consecutive shots exactly one minute apart to give the Panthers a 2-1 victory.

Booth whipped a backhander through Henrik Lundqvist's pads with 8:50 left in regulation to tie the game. Horton put Florida ahead when he snapped a passout from Richard Zednik past Lundqvist 60 seconds later, and the Panthers made the lead stand up despite pressure from the Rangers, who outshot Florida 41-22.

"We know we can come from behind and win," Horton said. "We're not out until the buzzer sounds. That's the way we kind of played."

That the Panthers had a chance to win was due to the performance of backup goaltender Craig Anderson, who outplayed Lundqvist by stopping 40 of 41 shots for his first win since Dec. 11, a span of 10 games. One of his best stops came when he robbed Paul Mara at the right post in the third period with the Rangers still leading 1-0, giving his team a chance to come back.

As they did in Toronto, the Rangers generated the better scoring chances -- but again were unable to finish.

"I think we deserved better than we got," forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "We're generating so much offense, and we aren't able to finish. We're not finding a way to bury the hatchet and score on the chances we have."

The Rangers fell to 2-8-4 in their last 14 games and were passed by Florida for sixth place in the East -- both teams have 70 points, but the Panthers have played two fewer games. The Rangers are one point ahead of Buffalo and Carolina, which are tied for the last playoff berth, and only four in front of 10th-place Pittsburgh.

''The Rangers played a great hockey game,'' said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, whose team rebounded after a 6-1 beating in Boston on Tuesday. ''We're fortunate to get out of here with two points, but we'll take it.

''We're all in such a close battle. That's a four-point game, and everybody on both sides knows it.''

Tortorella certainly does. Despite the loss, he could find little to complain about with the effort his team put out.

"You can't hate your guys because they're struggling," he said. "It's easy to love them when they're going well and hate them when they're going bad. Our best players are going to have to be our best players, and they will. They're going to get every opportunity to get us out of this scoring funk.

"I'm not upset with them. We did a lot of good things. We're just struggling to score a goal, and it compounds when they scored a couple of quick ones on us at the end of the game, when we controlled most of the game. As a coach, I have to realize how the game is going and act accordingly."

The Rangers came out buzzing in Tortorella's first game back at Madison Square Garden -- he was winless in four games as New York's interim coach in 1999-2000. They thought they had scored 17 seconds into the game when Dubinsky deflected Mara's point shot past Anderson. But the goal was waved off by referee Bill McCreary, who said the puck was knocked into the net with a high stick.

New York kept testing Anderson and was rewarded at 7:34 when Markus Naslund crashed the net and got his stick on a rebound after Anderson stopped Scott Gomez' breakaway.

Anderson kept it a 1-0 game early in the second period when he got his pad out to stop Ryan Callahan on a breakaway after Callahan had deked him to the ice and had the whole top of the net but didn't lift the puck.

The Rangers had a chance to take command early in the third period when they had a two-man advantage for 48 seconds. But their power play, which has struggled all season, generated nothing.

"Our weakest moments were probably on the 5-on-3," Tortorella said. "Other than that, I thought we played a hell of a game."

They did -- except for the inability to score more than one goal.

"Certainly playing with a cushion and getting that second goal changes the dynamic of both of these games," Rangers captain Chris Drury said of the back-to-back losses. "We weren't able to get it, so it is not good."

Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.

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