SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers needed a win against the New York Rangers to make up ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race.
Again, they failed to do so.
Florida came into the night eight points behind the Rangers, who were tied with the New York Islanders for the East’s final wildcard spot, and they now find themselves in a double-digit hole after a 5-3 loss.
Yes, there is still more than half the season still remaining, but things are really starting to look bleak for the Panthers.
With the loss, Florida has the fourth-worst point percentage in the East and the second-worst in the Atlantic Division.
For a team that has yet to win three games in a row, that is a tough hole to climb out of.
The Panthers have been digging ditches for themselves all season and it was no different on New Year’s Day.
”We did not move the puck well at all tonight,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
”We had open people and we continually put it into their feet and it it’s like we have a capacity to work X amount and when we hit that capacity the rest of the game got away from us.”
New York was outshooting them 11-1 early in the first period and the Rangers kept their foot on the gas.
Mika Zibanejad scored the game’s first two goals — starting late in the first before cashing in again late in the second — and the Panthers were chasing the game from the get.
Nick Cousins cut the deficit to a goal just over three minutes after Zibanejad’s second and the two teams traded goals ever since.
The Rangers won the dog fight, with stars Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin answering the bell while Florida’s depth pieces tried to chip away at the mountain in front of them.
”I don’t think our game changed a whole lot playing from behind,”
At the end of the day, the better team won.
Florida has now lost its past two games and eight of the past 11 with one of the roughest stretches of the season still to come.
January figures not to be kind to the Panthers — not that December was anything to write home about.
”When you look at the standings, everyone knows where we are,” Cousins said.
”But at the same time, there are 44 games left, so there is still half the season left. It’s just a matter of us playing our game consistently.”
THE GOALS OF THE GAME
- Rangers 1, Panthers 0 (14:36, 1st): Mika Zibanejad slipped through between Sasha Barkov and Radko Gudas and beat Sergei Bobrovsky with a backhander just a 4-on-4 turned into a Ranger power play.
- Rangers 2, Panthers 0 (10:30, 2nd): Zibanejad got his second of the game with a slap shot off a feed from Kappo Kakko.
- Rangers 2, Panthers 1 (13:57, 2nd): Nick Cousins scored his fourth goal of the season with a snapshot from the right face-off dot.
- Rangers 3, Panthers 1 (15:44, 2nd): Chris Kreider taapped in a feed from Kakko with Aaron Ekblad making an attempt to break up the play in between them.
- Rangers 3, Panthers 2 (19:02, 2nd) Sam Bennett blasted a Carter Verhaeghe rebound to beat Jaroslav Halak on the power play. He broke a 13-game goal drought that dates back to Dec. 1.
- Rangers 4, Panthers 2 (1:38, 3rd): Vincent Trocheck beats Bobrovsky on the power play moments after a Panthers shorthanded rush was snuffed out.
- Rangers 4, Panthers 3 (2:53, 3rd): Eric Staal beats Halak with a wrist shot from above the slot.
- Rangers 5, Panthers 3 (10:04, 3rd): Artemi Panarin got his 10th of the season as he beat his old pal Bob from the top of the slot.
PANTHERS PP1 STALLS OUT
The Panthers’ top power play unit could not get much of anything going for the second-straight night.
After going 0-for-6 on Friday, they sputtered out of the gate to the tune of 0-for-3 on their first three tries before Sam Bennett and the second unit came to their rescue late in the second period.
They finished the night 1-for-4.
MIXED RESULTS FOR BOB
Despite five goals against in less than 30 shots, it is hard to pin this one on Sergei Bobrovsky.
By the 6:45 mark, he had stopped all 11 shots he faced and had just gotten done stopping all six shots he faced on the first Rangers power play of the game.
He finished with 23 saves on 28 shots and seven saves on nine shots while shorthanded in front of a mostly feeble 2-for-4 Panthers penalty kill.
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Mika Zibanejad, New York (two goals)
2. Chris Kreider, New York (goal, assist)
3. Kappo Kakko, New York (goal, assist)
PANTHERS ON DECK
ARIZONA COYOTES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- This season (Arizona leads 1-0): Coyotes 3, Panthers 1 (Nov. 1)
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Arizona leads 20-16-2, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Friday night at Detroit Red Wings