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Panthers stay hot, beat Rangers 2-1

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Fleischmann showed his remarkable passing skills Wednesday night, along with the ability to bounce back from a dirty hit.

Fleischmann set up both Florida goals, by Jason Garrison and Kris Versteeg, to help Panthers continue their hot start with a 2-1 victory against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.

"He's such a skilled player," Garrison said of Fleischmann. "It feels like he has it on a string out there. He does a lot of things that I stare at. For him, if I ever get a pass from him, I just try to make sure I know it's going to come to me at some point, so you've got to get ready for it."

Fleischmann's two assists gave him 10 points in his last seven games.

After the game, though, an elbow to the head he took from center Andre Deveaux was just as much a topic of conversation as Fleischmann's passing.

Deveaux raised his elbow as the two players came together in the neutral zone, sending Fleischmann to the ice.

Deveaux -- who is listed at 6-foor-3 and 239 pounds -- was called for an intentional hit to the head and ejected from the game.

The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Fleischmann left the bench area for several minutes but returned late in the second period. The speedy Czech did not speak to reporters after the game as he was getting evaluated by the Panthers' medical staff.

"I was definitely scared," Versteeg said. "I played against Deveaux a lot in the minors, so it wasn't a shocker he did that. Flash is a big part of this team, and when any guy on this team goes down, your heart kind of drops."

Florida coach Kevin Dineen was visibly upset when he was asked about the hit.

"Every year the NHL puts out a video on what is legal and not legal; a hit like that would be one example of an incredibly ... boy, that was ... there's a guy that's only played a few games in the NHL," Dineen said. "You can see it. The refs certainly got the right call calling a match penalty. At the end of the year you put together tapes of what's really wrong with the game, that hit would be one of them."

"I haven't even seen it yet," Deveaux said after the game. "It just happened quick. I probably shouldn't comment on it until after I see it. I did elbow him, but he came back (in the game), and that's good."

Before the hit, Fleischmann showed why his nickname is "Flash."

With Florida on the power play midway through the first period, Fleischmann made a backhand pass through the legs of a Rangers player to Brian Campbell at the left point. Campbell then fed Garrison, who beat Henrik Lundqvist with a one-timer from the middle of the ice from about 15 feet inside the blue line for his eighth goal of the season, most among NHL defensemen.

The goal gave Florida a 1-0 lead at 10:06.

"That was right by my face," Versteeg said. "I was just happy it didn't hit me. He hits at a perfect height almost, not too high, not too low. Guys don't really want to get in front of it. I don't. I wouldn't. Until the playoffs, at least."

Fleischmann's pass on Versteeg's goal at 1:09 of the second was even prettier. After grabbing a rebound off the boards behind the net, Fleischmann deked center Artem Anisimov at the side of the net and slipped a backhand pass to Versteeg, who one-timed it past Lundqvist.

The goal was the 12th of the season for Versteeg, who came in tied for third in the League with 25 points.

"He could have passed it to me earlier, but he held on to it and he beat the guy," Versteeg said. "That's a gifted player who can make some pretty sweet plays."

The Panthers couldn't beat Lundqvist again, even though they outshot the Rangers 38-20. Seven of those shots came during the major penalty to Deveaux.

Jose Theodore made 19 saves for Florida.

The Panthers (12-6-3) have won three in a row and are off to their best 21-game start they were 13-3-5 in 1996-97, the franchise's fourth season in the NHL. With the win, Florida moved to 7-2-4 in its last 13 home games against the Rangers.

Derek Stepan scored for the Rangers, who lost their second in a row after their seven-game winning streak.

New York lost at Montreal, 4-0, Saturday night when the Rangers managed only 17 shots.

Asked to pinpoint the team's offensive problems, Rangers coach John Tortorella said, "Oh, a number of things ... a number of things that we have to figure out."

When Tortorella was asked to specify, he replied: "Nope, not right now. I'll specify it with the team."

The Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play, making them 0-for-11 with the man advantage over their last three games and 3-for-35 over their last eight.

Stepan's goal at even strength came at 4:18 of the second period, when he cut Florida's lead to 2-1. He beat Theodore with a wrist shot to the stick side from the left faceoff circle.

But the Rangers couldn't get the equalizer while Lundqvist was keeping them in the game. Florida outshot New York 31-12 over the last two periods, but still had to hold on for the victory.

"He's a darn good goalie," Versteeg said. "You've got to throw everything you've got at him. He's one of the best, if not the best goaltender in the entire League. We fired away at him tonight and we found a way to win, which is big for us."
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