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Rangers hang on to beat Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The New York Rangers weren't necessarily impressed with their performance Wednesday night, but they weren't going to complain about their bounce-back effort.

Two nights after being shut out by the Tampa Bay Lightning and seeing goalie Henrik Lundqvist pulled, the Rangers rebounded with a 5-2 victory against the Florida Panthers.

The Rangers appeared headed for an easy victory when they led 3-0 midway through the third period, but they had to respond after Florida cut the lead to 3-2 on goals by Scottie Upshall and Nick Bjugstad less than four minutes apart.

"Tampa Bay wasn't a 5-0 game," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "I don't think tonight was a 5-2 game, but we did win, and there's a saying in hockey: You never critique a win. So, I'm not going to start right now."

Derick Brassard, Brad Richards and Rick Nash scored to give the Rangers their 3-0 lead, and Mats Zuccarello scored the Rangers' second power-play goal of the game with 1:28 remaining to seal the outcome. Carl Hagelin added an empty-netter with 23.1 seconds left.

The Rangers, whose 48 goals coming into the game were second fewest in the Eastern Conference, ahead of Buffalo's 44, matched their season-high with the five goals.

"The Rangers scored five goals; we haven't said that very often this year," Vigneault said. "Some guys are hopefully going to continue on that roll."

New York recorded 5-1 victories against the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Rangers (13-12-0) improved to 3-1-0 on a five-game road trip that ends Friday against the Boston Bruins.

The Rangers have won seven of their past eight road games. They had a six-game road winning streak snapped with the loss at Tampa Bay.

"It was a weird game," Nash said. "The main thing is we got the job done on the road."

Lundqvist, who was pulled after allowing four goals in the 5-0 loss to Tampa Bay, finished with 31 saves.

"I just tried to play my game tonight," Lundqvist said. "It was important for me and the team to bounce back with a solid performance. You feel the importance of trying to get points. I'm happy with the way I played. The biggest part of this game was the two points."

Upshall scored with 7:32 left in the third period to end Lundqvist's bid for his 48th career shutout, and Bjugstad scored with 3:43 left in the third to make things interesting.

Florida goalie Tim Thomas made his 10th consecutive start and stopped 17 shots. His career record against the Rangers dropped to 5-11-3.

"It's tough getting down," Bjugstad said. "We always show a lot of fight coming back. I think the main thing is just showing the fight before we have to come back. We've got room for improvement, but a lot of guys are getting better."

Florida, which came in with the worst power-play percentage in the NHL, went 0-for-2 with the man advantage, failing to record a shot on goal on either opportunity.

The Rangers, who had gone 0-for-9 in their previous two games, were 2-for-3 on the power play.

Florida controlled the early part of the first period, at one point recording four shots in a nine-second span, before Brassard opened the scoring 12:13 in with a gorgeous power-play goal. After four crisp passes in the Florida zone, Brassard finished off the play by redirecting Zuccarello's feed in the slot over Thomas' left shoulder.

Zuccarello later ended Florida's comeback bid when he backhanded a loose puck in front of the net past Thomas.

"The power play goes up and down; you just have to stick with it," Zuccarello said. "Today, we had some lucky bounces. It was nice to get them in."

Florida came in having posted a 3-1-1 record in its past five games.

New York has won both meetings against Florida this season, also winning 4-3 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 10. The teams will meet for the third and final time this season on New Year's Eve at BB&T Center.

Left wing Taylor Pyatt returned to the Rangers lineup after missing eight games because of a concussion.

Richards increased the Rangers lead to 2-0 at 18:53 of the second period with a seemingly harmless snap shot from the top of the right circle that got past Thomas after going through the legs of Florida defensemen Tom Gilbert and Brian Campbell.

Richards came in with one goal in his previous 16 games.

Nash made it 3-0 at 5:32 of the third when he stopped a Florida

clearing attempt near the blue line, skated to the slot and beat

Thomas with a low wrist shot to the stick side.

"I wouldn't say it was one of our best games, but at the end of the day, we found a way to win," Vigneault said. "And finding ways to win is the goaltender making some key saves at the right moment; we got that. The power play was good in the opportunities that we had.

"Tonight, compared to some other nights, when they did make a mistake, we were able to make them pay for it. They didn't make a lot of mistakes, but when they did, we did what you have to do, and that's why we won the game."

But the Rangers didn't win without getting a scare.

"I felt it was a very good effort from the start right to the finish," Upshall said. "It was a [game decided on special teams]. They got two power-play goals that were big goals in the game. They've got a world-class goalie, too, over there that really played well and stood on his head. There were good chances both ways for both teams. Both teams played really hard. It was a tough game."

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