Panthers 3, Rangers 2

A bit of deja vu tonight. Markstrom stood strong and the Panthers held on long enough to get their two necessary goals. Give credit to them for doing what they had to.

Nonetheless, frustrating result for the Rangers. With the Jets losing in regulation, the Rangers had the ability to clinch a playoff spot. And with the Islanders losing in overtime, they had the ability to move up to the six seed. Instead, a loss to the worst team in the Eastern Conference. It's hard to get too mad; they were 7-2-1 in their previous 10 games and significantly outplayed the Panthers tonight. Nonetheless, the struggles early in the season made a loss tonight very difficult to come to peace with. We outhit them, won more faceoffs, had more posession, and more than doubled their shot total. The scoreboard is what matters most, though, and it tilted away from the Rangers tonight. Had the Rangers gotten a couple of bounces in their favor like they did against Buffalo then we're celebrating a Rangers victory and four-game winning streak. Instead, we have this. Let's look at some post-game thoughts:

The Powerplay: It's been so mucher better since the trading deadline… until tonight. Three powerplays, and two in the first 21 minutes of the game. Unfortunately, no goals. A few solid chances occurred, but as a whole the Rangers really failed to shoot from high percentage areas and for some reason didn't get bodies in front of Markstrom. 

Mats Zuccarello: One of the few bright spots tonight. Zucc was the team's best forward and made things happen in all three periods. He got unlucky when a second period shot rang off the crossbar, but made a great feed to John Moore on the transition, which eventually led to Pyatt's goal. Zucc was also credited with four hits and two blocked shots. This is not the player John Tortorella became frustrated with last season. It's another quality game from The Hobbit and you have to wonder how close he is to earning Sather and Torts' trust and getting rewarded with a contract extension.

Taylor Pyatt: One of the weirdest players I have ever seen. He started the season hot, with three goals in his first four games. Then he had only one goal in the next 40 games. And now he has scored in back-to-back games. There are very few things he does particularly well, but at the same time, he's not a liability in any facet of the game. He's not good. He's not bad. He's just…there. Nonetheless, he's putting up some productive games late in the season, and the biggest compliment given about Pyatt is that he turns his game up a gear during the playoffs. He doesn't need to be a key figure. He doesn't even need to be a level below. If he can just provide a goal or two while being responsible defensively and working hard along the boards then he has a role on this team. He has done that these past few games. Tomorrow he might wake up and be Zombie Pyatt once again. Who knows?

John Moore: Going into tonight, Moore was averaging just under 11 minutes of icetime per game with the Rangers. He surpassed that number in the previous four games, and tonight was no different, with him earning 12 minutes. Whereas he was getting amplified icetime in games in which the Rangers had heavy leads, tonight was a tight-knit game from start to finish, and we all know how conservative Tortorella is with handing icetime to guys he doesn't trust. Safe to say that John Moore is gaining that trust and has more responsibility. Tonight, he skated onto Zuccarello's pass and blazed past everyone towards the net. Although his shot didn't go in, it created a rebound for Pyatt, who buried it. At only 22, there is plenty of untapped potential in Moore, and it will be exciting to see what path his career takes in the next few years.

Brad Richards: He made a good play centering the puck and getting the assist on Brassard's goal, which is nice. Unfortunately, he also made the biggest mistake in the game. In the offensive zone at the time, he forced a pass into Michael Del Zotto's skates and therefore allowed Florida to recover the puck and go on the transition. From there, Richards hauled down TJ Brennan, received a penalty, and gave the Panthers the vehicle for their go-ahead goal in the third period. Does this mean Richards' run of productivity is over? No. Outside of that play I thought he was actually one of the best forwards tonight. But hockey is as much about limiting mistakes as anything else, and he made a big one. 

Ryan Callahan: A weird one for him. On one hand, he had six shots and got the secondary assist on Brassard's goal. But only one blocked shot and zero hits? Part of that is likely because the Rangers had the puck for majority of the game, but even his shots were from low percentage areas and he didn't seem to have very good control of the puck tonight, with pucks bouncing off his stick and forced passes. Also, a bad tripping penalty in the offensive zone. It's unfair to expect him to play great every night, but he wears the "C" and expectations are that much higher. He's often the catalyst for this team one way or another but his contributions tonight seemed somewhat negligible. 

If the Rangers just failed to show up like the last trip to Florida then there would be cause for a great deal of concern. It's hard to single out anyone as having a truly "bad" game because the Rangers really "won" this game in terms of individual outputs. But at the same time, only a couple of guys stood out as doing things to truly make the difference tonight. An unlucky deflection off of a Ranger stick past Lundqvist for the first goal. A bad penalty by Richards leading to the second. And an empty netter on the third. One terrible play, a bad bounce, and no bounces in our favor. If we were leading the divison then we'd simply chalk this game up to poor fortune and look towards the next game. Instead, it's an untimely loss to a team that had lost six straight and are dead last in the conference. Though the Rangers have probability on their side; two points in the next two games or a Winnipeg loss will clinch a playoff spot – it can almost never be easy for this team, and tonight this season is no different. So it goes.

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