SUNRISE, Fla. – The New York Rangers are glad the Winter Classic is finally upon them.
After a disappointing loss to Washington on Wednesday, the Rangers bounced back with a 4-1 win Friday against the Florida Panthers.
The Rangers, who have won six of seven, will play the Philadelphia Flyers in the Winter Classic on Monday in Citizens Bank Park.
“There’s a lot of talk about it, a lot of hype,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. “It’s good to realize that it’s our next game. We’re excited about it. At the same time, it’s going to be good to play it and move on and continue the rest of the season.”
The Rangers lead the Eastern Conference with 50 points. Philadelphia has 48.
“It’s been such a buildup,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “In August you start to talk about it and going into camp and we had the Europe trip and HBO coming in and now we’re finally there. It’s so hard to believe almost.”
Carl Hagelin had a goal and an assist to lead the Rangers’ offensive attack against the Panthers.
Brad Richards, Brandon Dubinsky, and Michael Del Zotto also scored for the Rangers.
“You know it’s not going to be easy, they’re a pretty good team and they have a lot of skill up front,” said Lundqvist, who stopped 27 shots. “They played pretty well, but we did a good job of making good decisions.”
It didn’t take long for the Rangers to score.
Callahan skated up the left side, stopped along the boards just outside the faceoff circle, and threaded a pass to Hagelin, who deflected a pass past Scott Clemmensen 35 seconds into the game.
Later in the first period, Richards beat Clemmensen with a wrist shot and Del Zotto scored from the blue-line ending Clemmensen’s night. Clemmensen stopped 11-of-14 shots before being replaced by Jose Theodore.
“We weren’t ready for the game and there’s absolutely zero excuse for that,” said Matt Bradley, who scored for the Panthers.
“They’re the top team in the Eastern Conference and we know they work hard—that’s their M-O. And to come out like that was embarrassing.”
Dubinsky gave the Rangers a 4-0 lead on an impressive goal as he weaved through traffic and fired a backhand by Theodore for his fourth of the season.
Lundqvist was sharp throughout, stopping seven shots in the first, 11 in the second and nine in the final period.
“He played really well for us,” Richards said. “You don’t want to rely on him like we did in the third, but it’s a good chance he’ll hold the fort.”
With 7.6 seconds left, Del Zotto delivered a cross-check to Tomas Kopecky in front of the net knocking Kopecky’s helmet off. Del Zotto was facing the opposite direction when Kopecky responded with a punch that knocked Del Zotto to the ice.
“D-Z wasn’t even looking at him,” Rangers forward Brandon Prust said. “That’s a sucker punch. If you’re not looking at the guy and he punches you in the head.”
Rangers teammate Mike Rupp came to Del Zotto’s defence and received a fighting major in addition to a game misconduct.
Kopecky received a match penalty for the incident.
“That’s hockey,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “Some guy cross checks you in the back and follows through, he deserves a good smash in the face. (Del Zotto) got what he deserved.”
Theodore turned away 10-of-11 shots for the Panthers, who have lost four of five.
Notes: Hagelin has scored four goals in the past six games. … Del Zotto was a plus-2 giving him a plus or even rating in 30 of 36 games for the Rangers. … The Rangers waived F Sean Avery prior to the game. … Panthers F Stephen Weiss had four shots in his return to the lineup after missing two games due to an upper body injury. … The loss for Clemmensen (3-1-2) was his first of the season in regulation. … Before the game, the Panthers announced that D Mike Weaver had signed a two-year contract extension.