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Rangers bounce back with 5-2 win over Panthers

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh is congratulated

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh is congratulated by right wing Mats Zuccarello after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL game against the Florida Panthers, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, in Sunrise, Fla. Credit: AP / Terry Renna

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Rangers sensed that Wednesday night's opponent, the Florida Panthers, might be a tired team, having lost a shootout to Montreal on Tuesday.

Coach Alain Vigneault wanted his team -- which last played on Monday -- to show its speed and jump on the Panthers quickly, and that's exactly what happened.

The Rangers got goals from five different players as they defeated the Panthers, 5-2, at the BB&T Center.

The Rangers (44 points) won for the ninth time in 10 games and leapfrogged the idle Washington Capitals (43 points) for third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps play Thursday in the Winter Classic against Chicago.

"These two points were important -- you just have to look at the standings," Vigneault said. "We knew they played [Tuesday] night. We wanted to play fast and push the pace."

Chris Kreider and Marty St. Louis had a goal and an assist each, but this was a balanced effort. Three goals came off rebounds, one went in off a skate, and the fifth was a power-play marker by Ryan McDonagh that was made possible by Kreider's screen.

"We had two goals that were bang-bang -- Kreider's goal and Marty's goal," Vigneault said. "Two other goals were us driving the net off the rush. That's how you score."

The Rangers built a 3-0 second-period lead after rebound goals by Kreider and Derick Brassard and McDonagh's goal with the man advantage.

Florida got to within 3-1 with 3:22 left in the second period after Panthers winger Tomas Fleischmann scored on a breakaway. Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein was trailing on the play and battled but could not prevent the score.

A power-play goal by the Panthers' Jimmy Hayes with 12:21 left in the third period cut the Rangers' lead to 3-2.

"It's important that you don't over-think it at that point," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said of the Panthers' rally. "When they got that goal, it was a big game again. The most important thing was to respond right away."

The goal by St. Louis, which went in off his skate, did just that, giving the Rangers comfort at 4-2, and Dominic Moore put it away with his goal with 4:25 remaining.

The Rangers outshot Florida 34-18.

"We played a strong game," Lundqvist said. "We showed a lot of speed and had a lot of chances."

The Rangers scored all five of their goals against Al Montoya, who was their first-round pick in 2004 (sixth overall). Montoya, who made 29 saves, is 1-3 in his career against the Rangers, allowing 14 goals in those four games.

Montoya's only win against the Rangers came on March 31, 2011, when he had 25 saves in a 6-2 home win. He was playing for the Islanders at the time.

The Rangers, who host Buffalo on Saturday and then play six of their next seven games on the road, would love to continue the momentum.

"I thought we played real fast, and a lot of it is the first pass," Lundqvist said. "It was important for us to keep short shifts and keep the speed up. They may have been a little tired. But this is the way we need to play to have success."

New York Sports