The Rangers erased 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the second period, but a late goal by Denis Malgin with 1:09 left in the third period swayed the result in Florida's favor, 5-4 dealing the Blueshirts their first loss on home ice in nine games.
After New York tied the game on Chris Kreider's second goal of the contest at 13:28 of the third, it was Malgin's wrist shot following a blocked shot by Brendan Smith that beat Ondrej Pavelec for the victory, spoiling what was otherwise a strong effort by the Rangers in defeat.
"This has to be a huge lesson for us tonight, not only about our start again, but more so when you come back in a game at home, a minute left, these are games you've got to take at least one point from," said Rick Nash.
Florida jumped out to a 3-0 lead in a span of 10:57, starting with Aleksander Barkov's eighth of the year 5:50 into the contest. Jamie McGinn doubled the lead less than four minutes later, and Micheal Haley's goal at 16:47 ended Henrik Lundqvist's night.
Lundqvist finished with just three saves on six shots, but did not factor into the decision.
New York got going on a goal by J.T. Miller 4:04 into the second when his shot found its way through James Reimer's legs to get the Rangers to within two.
Florida answered 4:32 later when Jonathan Huberdeau beat Pavelec to put the Panthers back up by three.
Video: FLA@NYR: Buchnevich one-times Kreider's perfect feed
Pavel Buchnevich answered 50 seconds later when he buried a Chris Kreider pass on the side of the net that broke a six-game goal drought for his ninth of the year.
That duo, along with David Desharnais, who replaced Mika Zibanejad (upper-body) on the Rangers' top line, got the Rangers back to within a goal on one of the nicest goals of the season. Desharnais carried the puck into Florida's zone and fed Buchnevich with a pass at the circle. Buchnevich immediately fired a cross-ice pass to Kreider, who beat Reimer for his ninth of the year at 11:16 of the middle frame.
It appeared the Blueshirts tied the game off a remarkable individual effort by Kevin Hayes. The center peeled off the boards and drove down the slot and fired a wrist shot through traffic. The goal, though, was immediately waved off due to Rick Nash interfering with Reimer.
New York challenged the play but the call on the ice stood.
Coach Alain Vigneault harked back to a similar call last season when Antti Raanta was interfered with in a game in Carolina. That goal, which was also challenged by the Rangers, stood.
"I was thinking Raanta," Vigneault said. "That's all I can say."
Nash admitted there was contact between him and Reimer, but did not feel the contact occurred inside the crease.
"I felt my skate hit him, but I thought I was in the white and I thought he came out to my ice," Nash said. "The officials made the call and that's the way it goes. That's the rule. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn't."
Video: FLA@NYR: Kreider buries one after passing clinic
Pavelec made his first appearanc since relieving Lundqvist in Chicago on Nov. 15. He made 19 saves in the loss and felt his team deserved a better fate than it received.
"I wasn't able to come up with one extra save," he said. "It's disappointing because we battled back and I think we deserved at least a point. We were all over them and we were working hard to get back. It's disappointing."
The Rangers outshot the Panthers 37-27, including 12-6 in a first period that Vigneault said his team allowed all but three chances, though all resulted in goals. But the game came down to one play, and it was one Vigneault said his team couldn't make.
"We battled back, had a lot of zone time, could have had more opportunities to get pucks to the net," Vigneault said. "We tied it and just can't make the play we did at the end there."