The Panthers have had ample opportunity to slow down the playoff aspirations of opponents for the past couple of weeks.
Until Tuesday night, however, they didn’t do anything about it.
Thanks in great part of a strong defensive effort and a terrific game from goalie Jacob Markstrom, the Panthers held off the Rangers’ playoff party for at least another night by pulling off a 3-2 win at BB&T Center.
With a win, the Rangers would have clinched a playoff spot and assured the Panthers of their first last-place NHL finish in franchise history. Both of those things will likely happen before week’s end.
But they didn’t happen on Tuesday as Florida snapped its six-game losing streak.
“We had a meeting yesterday and talked about lying down and doing nothing or going out as hard as we can, win some games,’’ said Markstrom, who went 2-0 against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers by stopping 80 of 83 shots in the victories.
“The guys did a great job. We skated hard for 60 minutes. ... The whole team, from the start, played confident and made that push.’’
Markstrom took a puck to the chin late in the game but after a quick patch job returned to the net. Good thing. Markstrom, who stopped 36 of 38 shots on Tuesday, was a difference-maker.
The Rangers, with two games left, need two points to advance to the playoffs; Winnipeg must win its finale and hope for some help.
“We were 1-1 against them and wanted to win this series,’’ coach Kevin Dineen said. “It was a hard-fought win. It was good to get it in front of our fans and shut theirs up.’’
The Panthers were held to a season tying-low two shots in a scoreless opening period, finally taking a 1-0 lead 5:04 into the second when Tomas Fleischmann got a chunk of a Filip Kuba wrist shot and put it past Lundqvist.
New York, which started a three-game winning streak by thumping the Panthers 6-1 at MSG last Thursday, tied the score in the third but watched the Panthers get the go-ahead goal when Marcel Goc redirected a Fleischmann feed on a power play.
The Panthers opened it to 3-1 on Drew Shore’s empty-net goal while Florida was killing off a penalty. That goal came up huge as the Rangers got their second of the night with 32.9 seconds left.
“We had a great team effort, got great goaltending,’’ defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We found a way. We knew they were going to press. We did a pretty good job holding them off.’’
Peter Mueller was back in the lineup after his wife Taylar gave birth to their first child, a son named Charlie. Mueller missed the four-game road trip after returning home as the baby wasn’t allowed to come home immediately.
“Everything is good, everyone is back home,’’ Mueller said. “The doctors and nurses were great. I got no sleep for a couple of days.’’• Goalie Jose Theodore worked out on the ice before Florida’s morning skate Tuesday, but it doesn’t look like he’ll play in another game this season. Theodore has been out since tearing two groin muscles at Carolina on March 2.
• Captain Ed Jovanovski visited the locker room following Tuesday’s win. Jovanovski had major hip surgery on April 5 and said he has no timetable for a return.
“I’m feeling great, going through therapy and am doing everything to make it stronger,’’ Jovanovski said. “It’s responding well. So far, so good. No setbacks. It’s no secret the surgery I had was pretty aggressive. I just want to do things properly.’’