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Rangers lose to Panthers, fail to clinch playoff berth

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. — The New York Rangers got closer to the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday night, but there wasn't a lot of satisfaction in their dressing room.

After the Winnipeg Jets lost to the Washington Capitals, the Rangers had a chance to clinch their third consecutive postseason appearance but failed when they lost 3-2 against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.

"I had no idea what happened to them," center Brad Richards said of the Jets. "That's good news, the only good news we got tonight. But we don't want to back in. We'll get back to work and still control our fate if we win. That's all we can ask for."

Marcel Goc broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal at 7:37 of the third period, and Jacob Markstrom made 36 saves as the Panthers beat the Rangers for the second time in three meetings this season.

New York remained one point ahead of Winnipeg, which has one game remaining. The Rangers have two to play: Thursday on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes and Saturday at home against the New Jersey Devils.

With 52 points, the Rangers are tied with the Ottawa Senators for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, but Ottawa has a game in hand.

The Rangers also missed a chance to move into sixth place after the New York Islanders lost to Carolina 4-3 in a shootout.

"Our goal and our focus right now is just to get in and I don't care how we do it," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "I don't mind getting help. That's always a good thing. Let's just focus on the next one and see where that takes us."

The loss was the Rangers' fourth in 12 games this month (8-3-1) and snapped a three-game winning streak.

New York lost despite outshooting Florida 38-16. It was reminiscent of the March 21 meeting at Madison Square Garden when the Rangers dropped a 3-1 decision despite a 45-24 shot advantage.

Florida would have clinched the worst record in the NHL with a loss, but instead snapped its season-long six-game losing streak. The Panthers were outscored 30-8 during the streak, which included a 6-1 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

There also were a lot of Rangers fans at the BB&T Center, as is usually the case.

"It was a tight, hard-fought game and it was nice to get one here in front of our fans and shut theirs up," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said.

Tomas Fleischmann had a goal and an assist for the Panthers, and Drew Shore scored a shorthanded empty-net goal with 1:23 left. It was Shore's first point in 18 games.

Markstrom recorded his second victory in two starts against the Rangers this season. He also was in net for the March 21 game. In both cases, Markstrom outdueled fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist, who in his 12th consecutive start made 13 saves.

"I thought he played great in New York when we won 3-1 and I think he was very solid tonight," Dineen said. "He did a real good job of settling us down. It was a well-earned victory for Jacob Markstrom."

Taylor Pyatt and Derick Brassard scored for the Rangers, who had 18 goals during their winning streak, which began against the Panthers.

With Richards in the box for tripping, Goc scored from the slot when he redirected Fleischmann's pass and beat Lundqvist to the blocker side.

Rangers coach John Tortorella said the game basically came down to a poor effort by his penalty-killing unit.

"It's killed us all year long with our penalty-killing," Tortorella said. "We have two separate tries to get it out. Forget about what happened prior. It's 1-1, we have full control of the game. I think we take a penalty that we don't need to take and we don't get the puck out."

Both Tortorella and Lundqvist said the Rangers' high shot total might have been misleading.

"We had a ton of zone time, but I don't think we developed enough offense," Tortorella said. "But again, it's 1-1, we're in full control of the game, I don't think we should take a penalty and we don't get the puck out while killing the penalty — twice. End of story."

The Rangers went 0-for-3 on the power play against the team ranked last in the NHL in penalty-killing. New York's third power play came when Jonathan Huberdeau was called for tripping with 3:12 left in the third period.

Shore scored before Brassard got New York's second goal with 32.9 seconds left and Lundqvist on the bench for an extra attacker.

Despite outshooting Florida 21-8 in the first 40 minutes, the Rangers entered the third period trailing 1-0. But Pyatt tied the game at 2:45 off a rebound when he got his stick on the puck and it went in off defenseman Colby Robak.

Fleischmann, Florida's scoring leader, opened the scoring with his 10th goal of the season at 5:05 of the second when he tipped Filip Kuba's wrist shot from the top of the left circle past Lundqvist.

"We definitely were trying to focus on getting that first one," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "That was big for us. We didn't get it. A team like that, it gives them life. It lets them know that they're right in the game. You could see it, once they got that first goal, they started to come even harder. At the end of the day, we lose the special teams battle and that hurts us."

The goal came on the Panthers' first shot of the period and their third of the game. Florida's two shots in the first tied their season low, which came Saturday in the third period of a 6-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

With just under five minutes left in the second period, Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello hit the crossbar with a close-range wrist shot after a turnover in the Panthers zone.

"We had our chances," Callahan said. "I don't know if we had enough quality chances in the first and second. We had some really good chances in the third. At the end of the day, we have to be the more desperate team given the situation we're in. We've got to try to find a way to get those two points. Hot goalie or not, we're not going to come up with excuses for that."

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