The Florida Panthers desperately needed a win.
Sasha Barkov’s shootout magic got it for them.
Barkov’s goal in a shootout Friday night lifted the Panthers to a thrilling 4-3 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Barkov’s seventh shootout tally in 10 tries was the only score in the skills competition, and it moved the Panthers within five points of a playoff spot with 12 games to play.
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There’s still an enormous hill to climb, but Florida’s hanging on.
“I didn’t know what to do at first, but when I got closer to the net I saw some space on the glove side, and I tried to put it in there,” Barkov said. “We need every point right now.”
“I probably trust Barky more than I trust myself, and I trust myself a lot,” Jaromir Jagr said. “We were making too many mistakes at bad times, but we got a little lucky today and we have to keep playing better.”
After a horrific start that saw them down by two goals before the St. Patrick’s Day beer had even settled, the Panthers had worked hard to gain a third-period lead on a goal by Jonathan Huberdeau, who took a beautiful feed from Jagr and tapped the puck past Rangers goalie Antti Raanta.
But the Rangers buzzed around Florida goalie James Reimer (29 saves) before Mats Zuccarello’s goal with 8:15 left tied it.
After a shaky beginning to the game, Reimer came up big in overtime, stoning Rick Nash halfway through OT, and in the waning moment of OT and making a huge save on Kevin Hayes with two minutes left in the third.
“Reimer was unbelievable,” Florida interim coach Tom Rowe said. “A couple of those goals he probably wants back, but he kept grinding and grinding and got us into a rhythm and got us a point.”
A win looked hardly likely early Friday as Florida was down 2-0 after five minutes but rallied to take a third-period lead, but again couldn’t hold it.
The Panthers dominated long stretches of the game, and with 12:37 left the Panthers took their first lead as Huberdeau, entering the zone on a 3-on-2, sent a feed to a streaking Jagr down the slot, who passed the puck across the crease to Barkov, who smacked it past Raanta.
But with 8:15 left the Rangers tied it as Zuccarello (two goals Friday) sent a wrist shot from the left circle, on a pass off the boards from Brendan Smith, underneath Reimer’s arm to tie the game at 3.
Down 2-0 after the first period, Florida dominated from the start of the second and got back within one just 85 seconds into the period. Alex Petrovic’s blast from the right point clanged off the post, but the rebound came out to Huberdeau in the slot, who quickly jammed it past Raanta to cut the deficit to 2-1.
At 6:41 the Panthers tied it on the power play on a gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing play. Jason Demers entered the zone and hit Thomas Vanek on right wing, who held the puck and drew two Rangers defenders to him, before feathering a cross-ice pass to Jussi Jokinen, who smacked the puck into the open net.
Florida continued to dominate the period, and at one point in the middle frame the Panthers had had 17 of the last 20 shots on goal.
The way the game started certainly seemed ominous for Florida. The Rangers, who hadn’t won at home since Feb. 19, jumped out to a lead 2:34 into the game on the power play.
The Rangers’ Zuccarello ripped a low wrist shot through Reimer’s legs for a 1-0 lead. Just 1:37 later the Rangers struck again; a turnover in the middle of the ice in the Panthers’ zone by Jonathan Marchessault (forced by oncoming Ranger Brendan Smith) resulted in New York pressure. Seconds later the puck landed on the stick of a wide-open J.T. Miller just above on the left circle, who ripped it five-hole on Reimer.
Rowe called a timeout and said he wasn’t angry with his team, but reassured them.
“I wasn’t yelling at all,” Rowe said. “I told the guys we’ll be fine, we’ve got so much game left, just calm down and relax and get back to playing our game. And we did.”
Florida is back in action Sunday at 1 p.m. at Pittsburgh.
Notes: Before the game Rowe said defenseman Aaron Ekblad, out with a concussion, would be sidelined “probably another week,” and offered a similar prognosis on forward Denis Malgin.
Jagr’s two assists gave him a new NHL record for most points for a player after the age of 40 (269), breaking Gordie Howe’s record.
“I’m going to pass him for most points after 50,” the 45-year-old said with a laugh.