Panthers 3, Rangers 1

Florida Panthers defeat New York Rangers, start five-game road trip on good note


Kovalev retires

After 19 seasons in the National Hockey League, Panthers winger Alex Kovalev has officially retired, general manager Dale Tallon confirmed to the Miami Herald on Thursday.

Kovalev, 40, was the last active member of the New York Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup championship team. He played in 14 games with the Panthers this season — his last coming in a loss at Pittsburgh on Feb. 22.

The Panthers and Kovalev parted ways soon afterward as Kovalev practiced with the Panthers before their game with Boston on Feb. 24. Kovalev was a healthy scratch that night, however, and his locker stall at BB&T Center in Sunrise was gone.

Kovalev played in 1,316 NHL games, scoring 430 goals with 599 assists with the Rangers, Penguins, Canadiens, Senators and Panthers. He also appeared in 123 postseason games, scoring 45 goals with 55 assists.

Because of his career accomplishments, the Panthers didn’t want him to end his career on waivers. So, Kovalev remained on the roster as he sought employment elsewhere. Tallon said Kovalev signed his retirement papers earlier this week.

In 14 games with the Panthers, Kovalev has two goals and three assists. His best game was his first as he got a goal with two assists in Florida’s opening night victory over the Hurricanes.

"I can't say enough about him and the time he spent here,'' coach Kevin Dineen said Thursday night. "He's a professional who handled himself well. He came and prepared himself. He gave every thing he could. I'm glad I got a month with him.''

Sometimes the best thing for a struggling team is a nice long road trip, one in which players can get away from the distractions of friends and family and just concentrate on the task at hand.

Certainly seems to be the case for the Panthers this week.

Two nights after snapping their six game losing streak with a rousing win in North Carolina, the Panthers had Madison Square Garden buzzing — in a bad way for the home team — as they dropped the Rangers 3-1.

Florida is 2-0 on its season-long five-game road trip that continues Saturday in New Jersey and moves on to Long Island and Toronto.

“I thought we played our system to a tee, played a good road game,” said Brian Campbell, whose gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead. “You need good goaltending to win in this league and we got that again. It was a success and we’re starting to see some improvement in our overall game.”

The Panthers held a 2-0 lead going into the third period before the Rangers pulled to within a goal with 3:48 remaining.

Only goalie Jacob Markstrom stood tall in the final minutes and Tomas Kopecky was able to get a little revenge after nothing was called when Rick Nash left his feet and hit Kopecky over the head like a professional wrestler.

With Tomas Fleischmann killing a penalty and New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist on the bench, the Rangers had a 6-on-4 advantage. Only Kopecky pulled in a loose puck deep in the Florida zone and flung it an estimated 150 feet into the empty net with 46 seconds left.

“That’s Chumbawamba right there,” Dineen said, referencing the British band from the 1990s. “You get knocked down and get right back up. We’re beat up. We have a lot of bodies out, people at home watching. Kopecky wanted to get right back in the fight.”

Kopecky’s goal — his team leading 12th — gave the Panthers plenty of cushion what with Markstrom outdueling his older Swedish counterpart. Markstrom made a career-high 44 saves; Lundqvist made 21.

“It’s a W and that’s what matters, but he’s a role model to a lot of young kids in Sweden,” Markstrom, 23, said.

The Panthers, who have struck first in two straight games after falling behind every night during the six-game losing streak, came out flying and made it 1-0 when Campbell got his seventh of the year by cracking a 50-foot slap shot over Lundqvist’s shoulder 8:22 in.

Markstrom has been terrific since watching Scott Clemmensen make consecutive starts last week. Since returning, the rookie has stopped 77 of 79 shots.

“Good goaltending leads to good overall play,” Dineen said. “We were happy with the result here.”

Florida took a 2-0 lead in the second when Jack Skille worked the puck out of the corner and started a battle in front of the net. Scottie Upshall, playing in his 10th game because of various injuries, knocked at the loose puck and put it through at 4:28 of the season.

This and that

• Dineen said Selleck suffered a concussion after being punched square in the face by Carolina’s Kevin Westgarth on Tuesday. “We sent him home so he could start his recovery,” Dineen said. “It’s part of the protocol.”

Selleck was given an automatic suspension for instigating the fight by going in on a line change with 2:58 left in Florida’s 4-1 win. Selleck was given a second game suspension on Wednesday — although because of the concussion, he wouldn’t have played anyway.

Dineen, per NHL rule 46.22, was fined $10,000 by the league for Selleck going onto the ice for the fight. Dineen wouldn’t talk about the fine when asked about it, although he did allude to it.

“My kids are going to community college now,” Dineen said.

• Dineen said injured defenseman Dmitry Kulikov should return to the lineup in the coming days. Kulikov dislocated a shoulder during Florida’s loss at Carolina on March 2.

Kulikov, who has missed 10 straight games, said he hasn’t been given a timeline on a return but says things are progressing.

“I’ve been doing a lot off-ice to strengthen the shoulder, get some stability,” Kulikov said after Florida’s morning skate at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan. “It’s not good news that it was dislocated, but the good news was there was no surgery. It wasn’t as bad as some we’ve seen here.”

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