A team-wide rebound was exactly what the Rangers needed after a humbling loss to San Jose on Saturday. On Monday night, that’s what the Blueshirts delivered in a 4-2 dispatching of the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden.
“From last game to this game, it was like two different teams,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who faced only 12 shots in the first two periods and finished with 25 saves.
It also was a breakthrough night for Rick Nash, who hadn’t found the net since Dec. 30 at Tampa Bay — due in large part to missing 20 games with a leg injury — but scored the game-winner in the third period.
“It’s been a grind for the first five games back,” said Nash, who had been held without a point until his shot from the right side eluded Panthers goalie Al Montoya to forge a 3-1 lead at 11:14 of the final period.
“I put tons of pressure on myself to perform,’’ Nash said. “The way I see it, it’s one game. I’ve got to be consistent, I’ve got to put a string of these games together. It’s nice to have a good night, but these are two huge points for us. I thought the first two periods were great. We didn’t give them much at all.”
Derick Brassard hounded Ted Purcell into a weak clearing attempt to begin the sequence that led to Nash’s 13th goal of the season.
The Panthers’ Jiri Hudler scored to trim the Rangers’ lead to 3-2 at 19:24, but Tanner Glass’ empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left sealed the much-needed victory.
“We were confident tonight,” Glass said. “We knew we had to come back with a big win. It wasn’t perfect, no game is . . . We’re trying to get predictable for each other. We’re not proud of that one [a 4-1 loss] in San Jose.”
After 40 minutes, the Blueshirts had a 2-0 lead. Viktor Stalberg stripped Jaromir Jagr of the puck and finished a two-on-one with Dom Moore, and Mats Zuccarello zipped a wrister under the crossbar for his 23rd goal of the season.
Lundqvist was fortunate at the end of the second after Marc Staal’s weak clearing attempt was picked off and led to a scrum in front. It included referee T.J. Luxmore in the crease, jumping and landing on Lundqvist, and Jussi Jokinen’s sliding shot hitting one post and hugging the line over to the other. For the most part, though, the Rangers regained their defensive structure.
At 2:28 of the third period, defenseman Steven Kampfer batted down a high rebound that bounced off Lundqvist’s arm into the goal, and it was ruled no goal on the ice. A league review in Toronto supported that call, saying it was inconclusive that Kampfer’s stick was below the crossbar.
At 6:51, Vincent Trocheck deflected a pass past Lundqvist to narrow the Rangers’ lead to 2-1.
Now 24-8-3 at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers (41-24-8, 90 points) reclaimed second place in the Metropolitan Division, moving two points ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Penguins, who have won six in a row. The Rangers, who have nine games remaining, are five points ahead of the Islanders, who have two games in hand.
“The good thing about our group,” Stalberg said, “[is] every time we fought adversity, we found a way to bounce right back. There hasn’t been many times where we’ve lost back-to- back. We all know what’s on the line here.”