Bad start, bad finish, and the streaks are over.
Despite a fierce comeback after a rough first period in which Henrik Lundqvist was pulled, the Rangers fell to the Florida Panthers, 5-4, on Tuesday, snapping a four-game winning streak overall and an eight-game run of victories at Madison Square Garden.
With 1:09 left in regulation, Denis Malgin’s tiebreaking goal, — when Nick Holden couldn’t clear the zone — went past Ondrej Pavelec to end a wild affair in which the Rangers came back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits but were unable to secure a point..
“I wasn’t able to come up with one extra save, it’s disappointing,” Pavelec said. “We were all over them. I believed we could come back.”
Chris Kreider, who had two goals and an assist, said losses are especially difficult when a comeback fails in the final minutes. “We’ve got to come away with a point,: Kreider said. “Other teams, especially in our division, come away with a point.”
After falling behind in the first, when the Panthers scored three times on six shots, prompting coach Alain Vigneault to yank Lundqvist in favor of Pavelec, it looked bleak for the Blueshirts.
But by the third, the Rangers had pulled within 4-3, and thought they had tied it with what would have been their fourth goal of the second period.
Kevin Hayes circled the Panthers zone lugging the puck, came in and beat James Reimer with 4:11 left in the period. Reimer was bumped slightly by Rick Nash before the shot. The goal was waved off, and the Rangers challenged but lost. The ruling from the league’s situation room after a review was that there was “incidental contact” by Nash that prevented Reimer from “doing his job.”
Reimer, the Panthers’ backup, hadn’t played in four games and dropped his last five starts (0-4-1), with a 3.98 GAA and .862 save percentage.
Kreider’s second goal knotted it at 4 with 6:32 left in regulation. It was set up by David Desharnais, who produced his third assist as a last-minute replacement for the team’s leading scorer, Mika Zibanejad, ruled out after warmups with an upper-body injury.
“He tried it in warmups, couldn’t go,” Vigneault said. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”
Another problematic first period — their fourth in four games- — left the Blueshirts down by three. Sloppy play in the defensive zone and Lundqvist leaving gaps on his stick side led to the three goals. Pavelec, who hadn’t played since relieving Lundqvist on Nov. 15 in Chicago, again relieved the goaltender.
With Brady Skjei off for interference at 4:59, the Panthers capitalized. Alexander Barkov flipped a puck over Lundqvist off a deflection in front to open the scoring at 5:50. The Panthers made it 2-0 at 9:53. Marc Staal swept a puck out of the crease to save a goal, but Nick Holden mishandled the puck and Jamie McGinn’s snap shot beat Lundqvist on the short side.
Steven Kampfer, chasing the puck down ice, braked and snow-showered Reimer, who retaliated by whacking him three times in the leg with his stick after the whistle. Both went off at 10:53 for unsportsmanlike conduct and slashing.
Less than six minutes later, fourth-liner Micheal Haley took a pass from Keith Yandle and zipped a stoppable shot past Lundqvist at 16:47, triggering his departure.
From between the circles, J.T. Miller swept Mats Zuccarello’s bluel line pass through the legs of Reimer at 4:04 of the second to trim the lead to 3-1.
Pavelec made two stops, before Jonathan Huberdeau jammed the puck under his left pad at 8:36, but the Blueshirts responded just 50 seconds later. Kreider curled around the right post and found Buchnevich at the left one and he scored to make it 4-2.
Kreider finished a tic-tac-toe sequence from Desharnais and Buchnevich at 11:16 to cut the deficit to one.
“Three chances, three goals, it’s a tough league,” Vigneault said. “We battled back, had a lot of zone time, could’ve had more opportunities to get pucks to the net. We tied it up, but you just can’t make that play at the end.”