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Rangers back to winning, top Montoya, Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After a temporary setback, the New York Rangers continued their roll Wednesday.

Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider and Martin St. Louis each had a goal and an assist, and the Rangers defeated the Florida Panthers 5-2 at BB&T?Center for their ninth victory in 10 games.

The Rangers (20-11-4) rebounded after having an eight-game winning streak, their longest in 40 years, ended by the Dallas Stars, 3-2 on Monday.

"This is an important game,"???New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "This is a team that we're battling against in the standings. It was important to win for that reason, but also to bounce back right away with a win. That's important if you want to stay in the top half of the standings; we need to bounce back right away after a loss. It doesn't matter how many games you won before that. You need to come back to basics and play a solid game. That's what we did. You could see our confidence was there."

Derick Brassard and Dominic Moore scored for the Rangers, Derek Stepan had three assists, and Lundqvist made 19 saves.

The Rangers came in one point ahead of the Panthers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, although they each are among four in the NHL???tied for the fewest games played.

"Two points are important,"???Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "All you [have to] do is look at the standings. We came here tonight and our guys competed real hard. We know that Florida is a team that checks real well and plays a strong game, so we put a strong effort on the ice and I???like the way we played tonight."

Jimmy Hayes, facing his younger brother Kevin Hayes in a high-level league game for the first time, scored a power-play goal in the third period to bring the Panthers within 3-2. The Hayes brothers were teammates in high school and at Boston College.

"If anyone is going to score, it might as well be him,"???Kevin, 22, said. "He played pretty well out there, I???thought. He was buzzing around, hitting everyone, getting under guys' skin. It's just how he plays and I???thought he played well."

Jimmy, 25, said, "It was a special moment, pretty cool, the first time we played against each other. It wasn't the outcome I wanted but it was pretty cool.''

Tomas Fleischmann scored for the Panthers, who lost in regulation at home for the first time in nine games. The Panthers (16-10-9) were 6-0-2 since a 4-1 loss against the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 24.

Florida wrapped up its traditional holiday homestand 2-1-1 and embarks on a season-long, six-game road trip that begins Friday against the Buffalo Sabres. The homestand produced Florida's four largest crowds of the season.

Panthers goalie Al Montoya, in his first start since Dec. 13, made 29 saves against the team that selected him in the first round (No. 6) of the 2004 NHL???Draft.

The Rangers, who have defeated the Panthers four consecutive times, won at BB&T???Center for the second straight New Year's Eve, following a 2-1 shootout victory in 2013.

The Rangers dominated most of this game against the Panthers, who were playing on a second consecutive night and for the third time in four days.

"We're not going to make excuses,"???Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "We played last night, but we just had a nice break. We just weren't good enough.

"Most of the night the Rangers were all over us. We were totally dominated. That's the best team I've seen so far this year. They really took control of the game. They were skating and having four lines come against us all night. They forced a lot of our turnovers. You've got to give them a lot of credit. We got outworked and outcompeted for most of the night."

McDonagh's power-play goal made it 3-0 at 14:28 of the second period. He used his leg to stop a clearing attempt near the blue line then quickly lined up a slap shot from the middle of the ice that beat Montoya to the glove side. It was the fourth consecutive game and the sixth time in seven games the Rangers scored a power-play goal.

"Just the way the play was going, it seemed like everybody was kind of down towards the net,"?????????McDonagh said. "When you put a puck towards the net, we talk about it, it kinds of breaks down coverage. The opposition doesn't really know where they are on the rink. I was able to settle it down and just saw a lane to the net and tried to get it off as quick as I?????????could before they got in the shot lane there. Good screen in front, found a way."

Fleischmann cut the lead to 3-1 on a breakaway at 16:38 of the second after taking a perfect two-line pass from Jonathan Huberdeau. With Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein on his back, Fleischmann beat Lundqvist with a shot that squeezed between the goalie's body and his right arm.

After Hayes cut the lead to 3-2 when he one-timed Aleksander Barkov's short pass across the crease, the Rangers took advantage of a lucky break to restore a two-goal lead.

Montoya made a great pad save on a Stepan one-timer from the right dot, but the rebound bounced off the skate of St. Louis and trickled between the goalie's legs after also hitting the skate of Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Moore made it 5-2 at 15:35 on a rebound after Montoya stopped St. Louis on a breakaway.

"We were expecting a push back in the third,"?????????Lundqvist said. "They got that late goal in the second to kind of get some life. We did play a really strong game. I thought we had a lot of speed, just played really well all over the ice. We created a lot of chances. When they got that first one, we knew the third one would be a little tougher. And obviously when they get that power-play goal, it's a big game. But it's important that you don't overthink it in that moment and you feel like you deserve a better result at that point. This is hockey. Things will happen and they come back. The most important thing is we responded right away with a big goal there."

Montoya made several outstanding saves in the first period, including a pad save on a rebound by J.T. Miller, before Kreider opened the scoring at 16:42. After Klein's slap shot from the point hit Stepan in the back, Kreider got the loose puck near the slot and beat Montoya with a quick wrist shot. Klein's assist was his 100th NHL?????????point.

McDonagh's rush down the wing led to the Rangers' second goal at 1:29 of the second period when Brassard put home a rebound into a wide-open net.

New York has two days off before playing host to Buffalo on Saturday.

"It was good to get back to playing the way we wanted to play, using our speed, coming out of the zone, not spending a lot of time there,"?????????McDonagh said. "It was good to see our power play get one there too. Would like to do the job in the penalty kill, but we'll get better at that. Overall, it's a good feeling to close out the new year here with a big win."

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