The Rangers lost their sixth straight home game Friday night as Alexander Barkov scored the only goal of the shootout, beating Antti Raanta in the third round to lift the Florida Panthers to a 4-3 win at Madison Square Garden.
Mats Zuccarello, who had scored twice in the game, and Mika Zibanejad were stopped by Panthers goalie James Reimer and Michael Grabner missed the net as the Rangers (44-24-3, 91 points) managed only a point for the night. They left immediately after the game for Minnesota, where they will face the Wild on Saturday night.
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Raanta, making his career-high 26th appearance, made 34 saves through regulation. Reimer stopped 29 shots. It was Raanta’s first shootout of the season, and he called it “a disappointment . . . We couldn’t score, then they score one and that was it.”
Coach Alain Vigneault had said several times that he needed his top players to play to their capabilities. Two responded early, with Zuccarello firing a low wrister past Reimer on a power play to end a 12-game goal-less spell and J.T. Miller scoring his 20th just 1:37 later in the first period.
But the Panthers, five points out of the second wild-card spot and desperate, responded with three unanswered goals. It took Zuccarello’s second goal with 8:15 left in regulation to pull the Rangers into a tie.
“There’s no doubt our group came ready to play,” Vigneault said. “We had a real good start, we just didn’t sustain it. We stopped moving our feet the way we can, we stopped moving the puck the way we can [in the last 10 minutes of the first and in the second].”
In the second period, the Rangers looked as if they — rather than the Panthers — had played Thursday night.
Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau put back a rebound of a shot that hit the post to cut the Blueshirts lead to 2-1 at 1:25. Brady Skjei’s interference sent him to the box at 5:56, and Jussi Jokinen tied the score at 6:41. Barkov gave the Panthers the lead on a pretty cross-crease setup from Jaromir Jagr at 7:23 of the third.
With less than three minutes to play, Alex Petrovic cheap-shotted Rick Nash, who was being held, with a punch in the face, and when Miller jumped in, both he and Petrovic were sent off for roughing minors, prompting howls from the crowd and postgame comments from player and coach.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Nash said. “The puck was sitting on his [Reimer’s] pad, there’s no whistle, I took a swing at it, he gives me a shot in the head. There’s a hold in the first period, there’s a hold on both two-on-ones. I asked these guys [the refs]: ‘Do I have to fall? Do I have to sell it?’ ’’
Vigneault wasn’t pleased either. “There’s no doubt in my mind that a player like Nasher, with his presence and what he’s done, should be — I don’t want to say getting the benefit of the doubt — but he took a punch right to the face,’’ he said. “You’d expect a player of that stature to get the benefit of the doubt.”
The bigger issue is the inability to find victories at home, where the Rangers are 19-16-2. “It seems like we play straight lines on the road, get pucks deep, and at home we try to make the cute plays and not get as many shots on net,” Nash said. “We are trying to bring that road game home.”