SUNRISE, Fla. — The Rangers played their first game in 11 days, and it may have been the hardest one yet.
As the first team to face a near fully healthy Panthers squad in quite some time, the Rangers hung in through 40 minutes — and even tested the home team — before Florida buried three goals in the third period to take a 4-3 victory Wednesday night at FLA Live Arena.
With a one-goal lead at the start of the third period, the Rangers watched as the Panthers poured six shots on goal in the first six minutes of the frame. It was on the seventh that MacKenzie Weegar found the back of the net for his first goal of the season to knot the game 2-2.
The Rangers struggled to get the puck to the net for the first time all game, as the Panthers turned up the pressure. Florida forwards Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair then scored a goal each in the span of 4:09 to secure the victory.
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With 44.4 seconds left in regulation, Chris Kreider chipped in a goal to lessen the deficit.
Artemi Panarin registered his fifth multi-point game in his last 11 contests, leading the Rangers with a goal and an assist. He was brilliant through 60 minutes, as he usually is, and finessed some timely plays that kept the Rangers competitive.
After unloading 15 shots in the first period and emerging with a 1-0 lead on Panarin’s tally, the Rangers fell back into their familiar habit of making too many passes early on in the middle frame. The Panthers took advantage and found some momentum, with center Anton Lundell tying it up off a rebound just over five minutes into the second.
Panarin, however, came up clutch once again. Pickpocketing Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas, the Rangers star winger came away with the puck and found a streaking Mika Zibanejad, who buried it for the 2-1 score at 12:43 of the second.
It was Zibanejad’s third straight game with a goal, giving him eight on the season.
The top line of Kreider, Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko led the Rangers through a tight first period, combining for five shots on goal as the visiting team suffocated the Panthers in the neutral zone and along the boards. The jaw-dropping goal from Panarin — just ask his linemate Dryden Hunt gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes.
After receiving the puck at center ice, Panarin skated into the offensive zone with Panthers top-pair defenseman Aaron Ekblad in good position. The Russian Rocket then pulled a backhanded tuck through his legs to dance around Ekblad and slid the puck right under his former Blue Jackets teammate Sergei Bobrovsky’s pad to put the Rangers on the board at 11:08.