NEW YORK, N.Y. – The Florida Panthers were due for a little bit of good luck.
Before making the trek to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers, the Panthers endured a four-game losing streak—including three straight losses after regulation.
Their 4-3 win on Tuesday night was no sure thing, either, as the Panthers rode the ups and downs of a game that seemed to be slipping away.
It was fitting that defenceman Mike Weaver scored the winning goal with 8:19 left on a shot that was going wide, but instead found its way past surprised goalie Henrik Lundqvist after hitting Rangers forward Artem Anisimov.
The wayward drive was the Panthers’ only shot of the third period.
“Great! And it wasn’t even on net,” said Weaver, who hadn’t scored in 41 games, dating to Oct. 23. “I’m not a point-getter. Whenever I get an opportunity, I put a shot on net. It worked out great.”
Weaver underestimates his lack of scoring prowess. In 387 NHL games over nine seasons, he has six goals and 52 points.
This one helped Florida earn points for the seventh time in eight games (4-1-3), despite being outshot 35-17.
“We got outplayed for big stretches of the game and probably didn’t deserve to be in the spot we were in,” Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. “We’ve had a handful of nights where we’re on the other end of that. We’ll take it. Our goalie was our best player and that was enough to win.”
Tomas Vokoun, who shut out New York in a 3-0 home win on Jan. 2, made 32 saves two days after a muscle pull forced him to sit out Florida’s 5-2 loss at New Jersey that started the Panthers’ six-game road trip.
He was helped by fortunate bounces at the other end. Anisimov was victimized twice as Rostislav Olesz’s first-period goal also caromed in off him.
“Me? Two goals,” Anisimov said in summing up his night. “Two bounces … unlucky.”
Defenceman Keaton Ellerby’s first NHL goal snapped a tie in the second, and Mike Santorelli scored just more than a minute later to make it 3-1.
But Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle scored 1:51 apart early in the third to get the Rangers even. New York erased third-period leads in each of its previous two games, winning both in shootouts.
New York went 3-2 during its stretch of five games in seven days before the NHL all-star break. The Rangers believed they could pull this one out, too. They lead the league with 17 points in games they have trailed after two periods.
“Even when we were down 4-3, I still thought we were going to come back,” coach John Tortorella said.
Ellerby made it 2-1 at 3:03 of the second, just 46 seconds after Derek Stepan tied it. Santorelli added his 13th goal at 4:11 to give the Panthers a two-goal edge.
The Rangers couldn’t build off a pair of shootout wins over Atlanta and Washington that finished a three-game swing through the Southeast Division. Lundqvist, an all-star who got the night off Monday at Washington, took a tough loss in a game in which he faced little action.
He couldn’t be faulted for Olesz’s fourth goal with 7:25 left in the first. Anisimov, who scored the decisive shootout goal in the Rangers’ 2-1 win at Washington on Monday, stood in front of Olesz as he wound up to shoot. The puck hit Anisimov’s stick and changed direction as it sailed past Lundqvist, who slammed his stick in anger.
“They just had all the luck they could have,” Lundqvist said.
Florida was outshot 12-4 in the otherwise uneventful first period. Of the four shots, one was the deflected goal and another was a length-of-the-ice clearing attempt while the Panthers killed a penalty.
The Rangers got the somewhat lifeless home crowd into the game when Stepan made it 1-1 at 2:17 of the second, but the Panthers quickly took the home fans out of it again.
The 22-year-old Ellerby, in his 44th NHL game, managed to keep the puck in at the left point before snapping a long shot that eluded Lundqvist. Santorelli connected soon after to send the crowd back into a funk.
“It wasn’t our best game, that’s for sure,” Vokoun said. “Obviously, we were lucky at the end. We’ll take it. We lost some games we should have won.”
New York’s comeback began when Michael Sauer’s shot hit Prust and bounced between Vokoun’s pads to make it 3-2 at 1:14 of the third—a goal that stood up following a video review. Boyle scored his team-leading 18th goal during a power play to tie it.
Notes: The Rangers sent defenceman Michael Del Zotto, C Kris Newbury, C Chad Kolarik, C Brodie Dupont and C Evgeny Grachev to Connecticut (AHL) so they can play in two games during the break. … After the game, the Rangers activated RW Ryan Callahan and C Vinny Prospal from the injured list. Callahan has missed 19 games since breaking his hand Dec. 15 at Pittsburgh. Prospal has been sidelined all season following knee surgery. … Rangers LW Mats Zuccarello had three assists. … Panthers D Dmitry Kulikov returned after missing two games because of a rib cage injury. LW Chris Higgins was back after sitting out eight games with an injured hamstring.