Michael Nylander scored the only goal in the shootout to lead the Rangers to a 4-3 victory over Florida on Wednesday night. New York is now 3-0 in shootouts this season. “We really don’t mind going into a shootout,” said Rangers coach Tom Renney. “We feel like we have an advantage with our shooters.” The Rangers have won all three of their shootouts with one goal. The previous two shootouts victory came against Philadelphia on Oct. 7 and Toronto on Oct. 21, both by final scores of 5-4.
Nylander came into the Florida game 0-for-2 in shootout attempts this season, but he scored after going first for the Rangers. He deked to his backhand and lifted the puck past Ed Belfour.
“I wanted to try to deke him from one side to the other,” Nylander said. “It’s one of those plays where you try to out-think him and I was fortunate to do that at the right time.”
Ironically, the Rangers and Panthers played to a shootout almost a year ago to the date, with the Rangers also winning 4-3 last Nov. 9.
“Yeah, I was thinking about that during the shootout, you know, maybe it’s in the stars again,” Renney said. “We were able to prevail and win, so, yeah, history does repeat itself.”
Martin Straka added two power-play goals for the Rangers, who improved to 6-2 on the road this season. Blair Betts had the other New York goal. Henrik Lundqvist, returning in net for the Rangers after being replaced by Kevin Weekes the last three games, made 37 saves before the shootout.
Ruslan Salei, Nathan Horton and Jay Bouwmeester scored for the Panthers, who trailed 2-0 midway through the second period.
“Once we got going we created a lot of really good opportunities,” said Florida coach Jacques Martin. “I think the second half of the game was definitely really positive.”
But the Panthers were stymied in the shootout by Lundqvist. He stopped Olli Jokinen, Horton and clinched the victory when he blocked Joe Nieuwendyk’s backhand attempt on a deke.
“I always feel pretty confident going into a shootout, but at the same time I know they (Panthers) have some good shooters,” said Lundqvist. “So I knew it would be a challenge.”
Belfour stopped 27 shots for the Panthers in regulation and overtime.
Betts gave the Rangers a 3-2 lead at 1:34 of the third on a spectacular individual effort. He came in on the wing and skated around defenceman Mike Van Ryn before his backhand flip was stopped by Belfour. The rebound came right back to Betts, who put the puck past Belfour.
Bouwmeester tied it at 9:57 when he skated in from the point and poked home a loose puck through a crowd in front of the net.
“We had all the chances to get two points,” Jokinen said. “We can’t be satisfied.”
The Rangers had a 4-on-3 power play in overtime, but it was negated when Michal Rozsival was called for interference just 23 seconds after the Florida penalty.
Straka opened the scoring at 3:13 of the first when he one-timed a slap shot from the high slot and beat Belfour to the stick side.
Straka scored again at 2:07 of the second when his shot from the point went through a screen and again beat Belfour to the stick side.
“I was in good position to get off decent shots (on both goals) and it just worked out tonight,” Straka said. “It’s nice to get that early lead, but we have to maintain it throughout the game.”
Salei began the comeback at 11:13 of the second period on a four-on-four when he took a centring pass from Nieuwendyk and deked Lundqvist to his backhand.
Horton tied it at 17:18 on a power-play goal on a second rebound after Van Ryn’s slap shot from the points.
“We might have let one slip a little bit,” said Florida centre Stephen Weiss. “We’ve got to take the positive. We battled and competed hard. We weren’t going to let them come here and win that easily.”
Notes: C Prucha, who was hit in the face by a puck in the Rangers previous game on Sunday, played with a full-length visor. … Nieuwendyk returned to the lineup after missing the last four games because of a back injury. … Salei’s goal was his first in a Panthers uniform. He spent eight seasons with Anaheim before signing with the Panthers as a free agent in the off-season.