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Rangers cruise past Panthers in Classic tune-up

by Alain Poupart /
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Rangers coach John Tortorella says one problem prized free agent acquisition Brad Richards has is that he's too hard on himself.

There was no reason for that Friday night after Richards snapped out of his scoring slump in the Rangers' last game before Monday's 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in Philadelphia.

Richards had a goal and an assist to help the Rangers jump to a 3-0 lead and beat the Florida Panthers 4-1.

"He certainly wants to do more," Tortorella said. "He adds a lot of pressure on himself and I think it binds him up a little bit. I still think that's happening with his game, but he did some good things tonight. He just needs to free himself up. With Richie, it's tough because he's really hard on himself and he's a thinker."

It was the first two-point game in 13 outings for Richards, who had managed only four points in his last 12.

"It was good to get back on the board tonight," Richards said. "You lose the other night, that's when it gets you even more you want to help the team win. We've got a good team game and guys have been chipping in all through the lineup. It's been good, but I've got to get going a lot more than I was the last couple of weeks if we want to get to where we want to go."

It was a big game all around for Richards' line, which was involved in the Rangers' three first-period goals.

Carl Hagelin had a goal just 36 seconds into the game and added an assist, and captain Ryan Callahan assisted on Hagelin's goal.

"Our line did a great job the first period, first shift," Richards said. "That gave us a little jump. We had a good first period. We controlled the puck. Callahan talked about wanting to get more involved in the offense and it was good to chip in tonight."

Michael Del Zotto and Brandon Dubinsky also scored for the Rangers, who have won six of their last seven, and Ryan McDonagh had two assists.

Del Zotto's night, however, will be remembered more for what happened in the final seconds.

With 7.6 seconds left, Del Zotto was involved in an altercation with Florida forward Tomas Kopecky. Replays seemed to show Del Zotto hitting Kopecky in the face with his stick before cross-checking him in the back, though he received only a minor penalty for high-sticking. Kopecky responded with a right hand to the face and was assessed a match penalty. Rangers forward Mike Rupp then went after Kopecky and got a fighting major and a game misconduct.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen wasn't just upset afterward about the incident, but his team's play in general.

"You're playing one of the top teams in the conference, and we like to think of ourselves … or at least looking at the standings … we're up in that area," he said, "and I thought we would be better prepared than we were."

It didn't help the Panthers that goalie Scott Clemmensen, making only his sixth start this season, had a bad night.

Clemmensen was pulled with 4:23 left in the first period after Del Zotto's goal made it 3-0. He allowed three goals on 14 shots before being replaced by Jose Theodore.

"There were some breakdowns in front of him, (but) at the end of the day, his job is to stop the puck and he didn't succeed in that early in the first," Dineen said. "First time I pulled somebody in the middle of a game, but we need better goaltending for us to have a chance against that team tonight."

The Rangers have outscored the Panthers 10-2 in the teams' last two meetings and have chased the goalie both times. Theodore was pulled after giving up six goals on 22 shots in the first two periods on Dec. 11 when the Rangers beat Florida 6-1.

At the other end, Henrik Lundqvist had another strong outing. Lundqvist, who came into the game with a 6-2-0 record and a 1.24 goals-against average in his previous eight starts against the Panthers, stopped 27 of 28 shots.

Matt Bradley scored the only goal for the Panthers, who lost at home in regulation for only the fourth time all season (9-4-5).

"We weren't ready for the game and there's absolutely zero excuse for that," Bradley said. "They're the top team in the Eastern Conference and we know they work hard -- that's their M.O. And to come out like that was embarrassing.

"Maybe we finished the game well, but we put ourselves in such a hole against a great team like that. To have a first period like that, you're not going to win games like that."
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