NEW YORK, N.Y. – When the final buzzer sounded at Madison Square Garden, the Swedish goalie celebrated the big win with his teammates.
No, it wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers this time.
Jacob Markstrom made 44 saves, and he and the cellar-dwelling Florida Panthers stole the spotlight from Lundqvist and the Rangers with a 3-1 win Thursday night.
Markstrom lost a shot at his first NHL shutout in the closing minutes, but it wasn’t nearly the bummer it appeared to be.
“Not at all,” the 23-year-old native of Gavle, Sweden, said. “We had a great game. It’s all about winning games, and we did that, so it feels great.
“I felt really good from the start to the finish.”
The Rangers had gotten back into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with wins on two consecutive nights this week after a three-game skid. But Markstrom was sharp and shut down offensively challenged New York.
New York has the same record as Carolina, 15-13-2, but the Hurricanes now hold the eighth spot based on a tiebreaker. If the Rangers fall short of the playoffs in a few weeks, they will likely look back at these lost points.
Markstrom, who has played in only nine games since being recalled from the minor leagues in February, earned his third NHL win of the season and fifth in 17 career games.
He lost his shutout bid when Marian Gaborik cut the Rangers’ deficit to 2-1 with 3:48 left, but Markstrom settled for wins in back-to-back games. Gaborik had gone seven games without a goal.
Brian Campbell scored in the first period, and Scottie Upshall made it 2-0 in the second against Henrik Lundqvist, who faced 23 shots. Florida (9-16-6) has the fewest points in the NH
“That’s seven or eight solid periods in a row for us,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “That’s what we’re looking for.
“The points are nice, and that’s all we’re doing. We’re looking for little snapshots, and tonight was a good one for us.”
The Rangers had a chance to tie it when they received a power play with just over a minute left, but Tomas Kopecky scored into an empty net with 45.9 seconds remaining to seal it for Florida.
Special teams were key all night as New York failed on all three power plays it had and killed only one of two against.
The Panthers, playing the second game of a season-high, five-game trip, were on a 1-7-2 slide before they won at Carolina on Tuesday in front of Markstrom (3-5-1). This is just the team’s second two-game winning streak this season.
That was good enough for Markstrom, who took no extra satisfaction in besting Lundqvist, last season’s Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goalie.
“It’s a ‘W’ and that is what’s important,” he said. “He’s a big role model in Sweden for a lot of young kids. He really showed the way. It’s always fun to play against him, but when the puck drops it’s just me trying to stop the puck.”
The Rangers appeared to be getting back on track with wins over Carolina and New Jersey, and their offence showed signs of life by netting three goals for the first time in five games on Tuesday.
They couldn’t sustain it.
“We’d be concerned if we weren’t getting the chances,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. “We had 40-something shots. You get those chances on a nightly basis, you’re going to get more than one goal easily.”
The Rangers played yet another sluggish and uninspired first period, as they have done in a recent trend, and fell behind 1-0 despite holding a 12-7 shots edge in the frame.
“I don’t think our start was great, but it wasn’t as slow as some of the other ones,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “I don’t think it was us overlooking them.”
Florida grabbed the lead during its only power play of the period. T.J. Brennan faked a shot at the right point and slid a pass across the zone to defence partner Campbell, who fired a slap shot from the upper inside edge of the right circle that appeared to clip the stick of Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh before it sailed past Lundqvist at 8:22. It was Campbell’s seventh goal of the season.
The Rangers didn’t look much better in the second, and they were booed off the ice as they trudged to the dressing room down by two goals.
“What’s frustrating is you look at the game, and we have enough chances to tie it up earlier, but we’re not doing it,” Lundqvist said.
Again, New York got the best of Florida in shots—this time 15-9—but only one puck found the net.
During a scramble in front, Lundqvist stopped a shot by Jack Skille, but he couldn’t keep Upshall from popping in the rebound at 4:28.
Markstrom was much busier at the other end. He had a scare when a shot got behind him after it struck the post and slid dangerously through the crease. Markstrom then made a good stop to deny Gaborik’s backhander from in front late in the second.
NOTES: The Panthers are 32-5-13 since the 2011-12 season when they score the first goal. … The Rangers had their highest shot total since they had 47 against the Islanders on March 15, 2011. … Rookie LW Chris Kreider was back in the New York lineup for the first time since Feb. 26, his last game before being sent down to Connecticut of the AHL. … Referee Jean Hebert was tended to by the Rangers’ training staff after his mouth was bloodied in the first period. He remained in the game.