NEW YORK – The Panthers left Boston and their performance against the Bruins in the rearview mirror Wednesday afternoon as they prepared for what will be a raucous Madison Square Garden when they visit the Rangers for coach John Tortorella’s MSG debut.
After falling apart during the third period of Tuesday’s 6-1 loss in Boston, the Panthers move to New York for the second game in this crucial five-game road trip.
DeBoer held a meeting Wednesday morning with his team at TD Banknorth Garden before a short practice. Goalie Tomas Vokoun, who missed Tuesday’s game due to the flu, practiced and said he was feeling better. Vokoun, who’s had three shutouts in his last six games, would give the Panthers a healthy starting roster going into one of their most important games of the season.
“The Rangers game is going to be a real desperation game for both sides,” said Panther coach Peter DeBoer. “It’s a big four point game.”
DeBoer said Tuesday’s loss is something “we have to put away, take it for what it was, and move forward.” After watching tape Wednesday of the Bruin game, DeBoer said; “My feelings after the game haven’t changed.”
“We had a bad start, they capitalized,” he said. “Right up to the third goal of the second period, we were playing good hockey. We were trading chances with them.”
But for the Panthers to continue their climb up the standings, they’ll have to get more offense from their top two lines. The Panthers have three goals in their last three games, and those goals have come from Kamil Kreps and Radek Dvorak.
“Our top two lines have to give us a little more, a little more consistency in the output department,” said DeBoer, referring to David Booth, Nathan Horton and Richard Zednik and Cory Stillman, Stephen Weiss
and Michael Frolik. “We got shutout in the Chicago game, against Boston (Saturday) we got two goals from Dvorak, that line, and (Tuesday) the Kreps got a goal, our fourth line.
“Those guys (on the top two lines) have to produce this time of the year. It’s with everybody this time of the year. That’s going to decide this race down the stretch. Your best players have to be your best guys down the stretch, and we’re no different than anyone else in the league.”
Booth, who leads the team with 20 goals but hasn’t scored the past 10 games, agreed with DeBoer.
“I haven’t scored in I don’t know how many games,” he said. “I missed an open net (Tuesday) when it was 2-1. If I make that shot it might have been a different game. So, yeah, I have to pick it up.” FOURTH LINE GETTING NOTICED
On a Tuesday night when little seemed to be going their way, the Panthers got another big game from their fourth line.
The line of Kamil Kreps, Nick Tarnasky and Anthony Stewart not only scored the Panthers only goal of the game, but they were visible throughout the game and each contributed.
Kreps got the goal and won seven of 11 faceoffs, Stewart and Tarnasky each had an assist, and Tarnasky had a game-high five hits. It led coach Peter DeBoer to claim, “They were probably our best line up front.”
Whether it’s Tarnasky, Kreps, Stewart or Brett McLean, the fourth line has provided energy most nights for the Panthers in their `14-6-3 run since Jan. 1. And they’ve been rewarded with more ice time by DeBoer.
“I think coach has had confidence in the fourth line, and that’s great for us,” said Stewart, who played 11:21 against Boston. “I noticed us out there (recently) against (Alex) Ovechkin a couple times. Before it was like if (Vinny) Lecavalier is out there, get off. So it’s definitely a confidence booster, and I think it shows in our results. We’re getting a lot of chances. We haven’t buried a lot, but we’re out there contributing.”
Tarnasky, who was acquired in November for his ability to create energy, according to GM Jacques Martin, was physical and created chances in games Saturday and Tuesday against Boston. He said more playing time increases confidence.
“It’s a lot easier to feel comfortable with the puck when you’re playing more,” he said. “When you’re getting three, four, five minutes you really have to focus on not making a mistake rather than trying to contribute. When you get the opportunity to play 10 minutes, it makes it a lot easier mentally and physically. You’re warmed up, ready to go.”
Stewart said you “can’t really do anything with four, five minutes” a night.
“There’s a big difference between six and ten minutes,” he added. “You play nine minutes, you’re getting four, five shifts a game. It definitely helps confidence and, hopefully, it will turn up on the scoresheet, too.” EYES ON RANGERS
Before making his MSG debut Thursday, Tortorella will mark his first game as coach Wednesday in Toronto where the Rangers play the Maple Leafs.
“We’ll watch that closely and get as good a handle on it as we can,” DeBoer said. “There’s a new coach, probably new systems, and they’ll be a bit more aggressive, so we’ve got to prepare for all that.”
Booth, who was coached in the World Championships by Tortorella, said, “I bet you he’s going to rev it up a notch.”
Expect to see the Rangers top players getting more ice time under Tortorella. “I’m not a four line guy,” he said. “Your best players need to be your decision makers.”