The best scoring chance the goalie faced all night occurred because of his turnover in front of the net. With a rising shot ticketed for a corner, Weekes flashed his glove up and snared it.
“That was my mistake,” Weekes said with a half-smile after leading the New York Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Sunday night.
The veteran backup has accepted his secondary role well considering he had been a starter most everywhere else before joining the Rangers last season.
In just his second home start of this season, Weekes made 34 saves and won for the first time since he posted consecutive victories on Nov. 1-2, in California. The only goal he allowed was to defenceman Mike Van Ryn in the third period.
It spoiled a shutout but not a win. And he had his earlier save to thank for that.
With under seven minutes left in the second period, Weekes cleared the puck in front he thought to Michal Rozsival. But his teammate was on the other side of the net, so the pass went right to Panthers forward Stephen Weiss.
The shot came quick and nestled in Weekes’ snapping glove.
“The onus was on me to make that save,” he said.
Martin Straka set up both New York goals, stretching his career-best point streak to 10 games.
Straka earned the second assist on Rozsival’s first-period goal and then made the key pass to Michael Nylander for another tally in the final frame as the Rangers extended their winning streak to a season-high three games.
“When you get a few goals and a few assists, your confidence gets a little bit higher,” Straka said. “At the same time, Jaromir (Jagr) and Michael they make the game a lot easier for me.”
Weekes did the rest.
He was steady throughout and confidently grabbed most of Florida’s long-range shots with his glove. He seemed poised to comfortably earn his 20th NHL shutout but Van Ryn wrecked those plans with 9:55 left, scoring his second of the season.
Weekes often hears boos in rare appearances at Madison Square Garden, but he bounced back from a relief stint at home a week earlier in which he allowed three goals on 13 shots in a loss to the New York Islanders.
Once fans got over the disappointment of not seeing regular goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who posted wins over Pittsburgh and Ottawa this week, they got behind Weekes and chanted his name on several occasions. He made 15 saves in the third period as the Panthers pressed for the tie.
“People have an attachment to certain players and that is understandable,” Weekes said. “We do have a lot of secondary offensive and defensive players and in my case, a goalie. Guys that are good players, too.”
Ed Belfour, playing for just the fourth time in the past 11 games, made 26 saves for the Panthers but failed to earn his 462nd NHL victory, which would have broken a second-place tie on the career list with New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur.
Florida was trying to earn points in a season-high four straight games.
“We got five points out of a possible eight this week,” Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said, “but it’s not good enough.”
The Rangers took advantage of the NHL’s most-penalized team on their second power play of the game a day after both teams played road contests.
Jagr forced Bryan Allen’s hooking penalty by cutting, darting, and getting free inside the Panthers’ zone – leaving Allen little choice but to tug him.
On the power play, Jagr passed the puck from above the left circle across to Rozsival, who darted from the blue line to the right circle and sent a rising shot past Belfour at 10:49.
When Nylander connected in the opening minute of the third, Florida’s hopes of bucking the trend of losing every game in which they trailed after any period took a decisive hit.
Rozsival carried the puck up ice and moved it to Straka, who brought it deep into the Panthers’ end. Just as he approached the goal line near the left corner, he dropped the puck into the center of the circle to Nylander, who quickly beat Belfour at 51 seconds for his 11th goal.
Notes: Nylander is tied for sixth in the NHL with 37 points. … The Panthers, who earned a 4-2 road victory over New York on Oct. 25, have never won twice at Madison Square Garden in the same season since entering the NHL in 1993. … The Rangers are 10-0-3 when Rozsival reaches the score sheet. … Straka has seven goals and 11 assists during his streak.