Artemi Panarin of the Rangers celebrates his second-period goal against the Panthers...

Artemi Panarin of the Rangers celebrates his second-period goal against the Panthers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

A few nights ago, after their win over the Bruins, Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said all these recent games against high-end opponents his team has been playing have helped to sharpen them for the playoffs.

Saturday night’s opponent, the Florida Panthers, was another big test for the Rangers. Bigger, even, because while lots of folks think Florida, last spring’s Stanley Cup Final runner-up, is the team to beat this season, the Panthers also happened to be one of two teams the Rangers had not beaten this season.

They beat them on this night, though, albeit in a shootout, which won’t be used to break ties in the playoffs. Regardless, when Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin — who had two goals in regulation — scored in the shootout and Igor Shesterkin saved the final shot, by former Ranger Vladimir Tarasenko, the Rangers finally had their first win over the Panthers, a 4-3 decision at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers (47-20-4, 98 points) are tied with Vancouver (45-18-8) for first place in the NHL. Boston (41-16-15) is a point behind.

But with 11 games remaining in their season, the Rangers weren’t thinking about first overall. They were thinking about the significance of beating Florida.

“I think any time a team beats us, we want to get our revenge and get a win against them, and the two against us, they were both tight games . . . and no different tonight,’’ defenseman Adam Fox said. “A tight game, and they’re a good team.’’

Fox’s 14th goal, a power-play effort at 6:22 of the second period, started the Rangers’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

After that goal, Laviolette put his fourth line of Jimmy Vesey, Barclay Goodrow and the people’s favorite, rookie Matt Rempe, out on the ice for the ensuing faceoff. They had a great shift to keep the pressure on until Panarin’s first goal, at 8:23, tied the score at 2-2.

“There’s momentum swings in every game no matter who you’re playing,’’ said Vincent Trocheck, who assisted on all three Rangers goals in regulation. “And whenever you want to get in on the power play and have that much O-zone time, it helps with momentum. And I thought putting out Goody, Remps and Vese right after that, and them going out and banging bodies, getting momentum going a little bit more. Next shift, we score. The momentum shifts pretty big.’’

“I thought it was a big turning point in the game,’’ Laviolette said. “We get the power play in the second, we score a goal. The Goodrow line was out, Vesey and Remp. They put it behind them, they finish some hits and get some shots on net, next thing you know, we’re back out with Trocheck’s line and [get a] great, great goal . . . and that evens things up. And now there’s lots of energy on our bench, lots of energy in the building. I think from there we got better and better.’’

Carter Verhaeghe’s goal at 15:52 of the third period gave Florida a 3-2 lead, but Panarin tied it 43 seconds later with his second goal and fifth in the last two games. Panarin whipped a shot toward a mass of bodies in front of the net and the puck pinballed off a couple of them and got by Sergei Bobrovsky (34 saves).

“I just shoot, no look, especially like that moment,’’ Panarin said. “Thank God the puck bounced like 10 times and go in.’’

Notes & quotes: Defenseman Erik Gustafsson was “being evaluated,’’ Laviolette said, after he was elbowed in the head by Florida’s Sam Reinhart during overtime and forced to leave the game. Asked what he thought of the hit, Laviolette said, “I don’t know. It looked like he got elbowed in the head pretty good against the boards. I hate to see that happen.’’ . . . Rookie LW Will Cuylle was a surprise scratch as Laviolette continued to rotate his 13 forwards into 12 nightly lineup spots. . . . Laviolette said D Ryan Lindgren, who missed his third game with a left knee injury, has begun skating on his own. Lindgren was injured last Sunday against the Islanders.

More Rangers


FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.