Riding a quality performance from rookie Jacob Markstrom, who stopped 44 of the Rangers' season-high 45 shots, the Florida Panthers snapped the Rangers' winning streak at two games with a 3-1 victory at Madison Square Garden.
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The Rangers (32 points) fell into a tie for eighth with Carolina with 18 games to play in the regular season. They play seven more at home, beginning Sunday against the Capitals, and 11 on the road.
For the 19th time in 30 games, the Rangers surrendered the first goal. With Roman Hamrlik in the box for high-sticking Drew Shore at 7:56, Brian Campbell's slap shot from the left point beat a screened Henrik Lundqvist at 8:22.
"Every other team seems to come out really hard and put us on our heels," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "We have to find a way on the first shift and second shift, just throw everything we have at them and create some momentum. We've got to figure out a way to get a lead and have a really solid start. If we correct that, we'll be OK."
The Rangers also have allowed opponents the first power play in the last eight games. "We're not getting it done on the PK [four power- play goals allowed in six games]," said Lundqvist, who made 21 saves. "The penalty kill, starting with me, almost has to be 100 percent, because we don't have the luxury. We did a lot of good things, but it's getting old. We've got to put the puck in the net."
They managed that just once, after trailing 2-0 on Scottie Upshall's rebound in a scramble at 4:28 of the second period. Marian Gaborik's backhander with 3:48 left in the third made it 2-1. It was only the seventh goal for the Rangers in the past six games.
"We get more energy after the goal," Gaborik said after his first in eight games, "but we couldn't tie it up."
Tomas Kopecky blocked Gaborik's shot on a power play and then scored into an empty net with 46 seconds left.
The addition of Chris Kreider, who had six goals in eight games for Hartford, didn't help, although he showed some toughness when fighting for a rebound in the second period. He banged Jack Skille into Markstrom and was jumped by T.J. Brennan. There was little traffic otherwise.
"We have an unforced error on the penalty kill and we do everything we could possibly do wrong on one play when they scored the second goal," John Tortorella said. "I think it was two-to-one in minutes as far as zone time. We outchanced them two-to-one, but we're still not creating enough offense with that amount of time in the zone."
The second period started with a two-on-one with Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan at the 31-second mark, but Markstrom stopped Callahan. J.T. Miller's shot hit the post, and the puck slid through the crease. "We need another big play at a key time," Tortorella said, "and we're just not getting it consistent enough."