Willie Mitchell summed up the Panthers’ 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Sunday in a few simple words.
“We busted our tails but you only get rewarded for wins,” Florida’s captain said moments after a crushing defeat at Madison Square Garden.
The Panthers did just about everything right in the final 40 minutes of the game as they attacked the Rangers time after time.
Florida took 98 attempted shots (shots on goal, misses and blocked shots) compared to 52 for a Rangers team that seemed surprised the playoff-hungry Panthers came with so much charge.
In the second period alone, Florida attempted 42 shots to New York’s 19.
The Rangers blocked a season-high 36 shots as pucks were flying all over the famous arena.
“I thought we played a hell of a game,” coach Gerard Gallant said.
“We worked, really competed and had a lot of scoring chances. We’re disappointed we didn’t get any points out of it, but I can’t ask for much more out of our team.”
Yet another stellar outing by backup goalie Cam Talbot kept the Panthers at bay. Florida was down 2-0 in the third before Brandon Pirri scored and continued the Panthers’ offensive puck assault.
Talbot stood strong, however, and ended with 38 saves.
“If we play like that, we played the best team in the league, and I don’t think anyone has played them like that,” said Jaromir Jagr, whose linemates Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were all over Talbot yet didn’t find the scoresheet.
“The kids need the confidence. We know we can play with them, were dominating them. This takes time. We have to learn and this was a great test for us. This is positive stuff… At least we’re playing for something all the time. This is exciting for me, I’m sure it’s even more exciting for the kids.”
Jagr, Barkov and Huberdeau combined for 26 of Florida’s shot attempts with Jagr and Pirri getting off a combined 10 shots on goal.
The Panthers did everything they could to get a win — yet couldn’t find enough goals to do so.
“We were desperate obviously,” Gallant said.
Down 1-0 after the first period, the Panthers came out flying in the second. Mitchell came close to tying the score, but couldn’t jam the puck past Talbot.
With 2:05 left in the second, after the Panthers’ top line wore out the Rangers with a marathon shift in the New York zone, Aaron Ekblad wristed one off the cross bar.
Although the Panthers thoroughly dominated the second, they put nothing on the scoreboard and went into the third down 1-0.
“There were shots coming from everywhere,” said Talbot, who is 14-2-3 since Henrik Lundqvist made his last start on Feb. 2 against Florida. Lundqvist was injured Jan. 31 against Carolina, but played two nights later against the Panthers.
“They seemed to be all over us in the second period and we couldn’t really break their cycle too much… Luckily we were able to weather the storm.”
Florida kept coming in the third and made it a 2-1 game on Pirri’s goal with 9:49 left.
The Panthers pulled goalie Dan Ellis (32 saves) during a power-play chance with just over two minutes remaining, but despite having two extra skaters on the ice, they couldn’t completely solve Talbot.
“There were a lot of rebounds, a lot of shots,” Jagr said. “What can I say? We didn’t score. Sometimes you need a lucky bounce and we didn’t get it. It’s frustrating not to score with all the chances.”
Roberto Luongo (shoulder) skated Sunday, but didn’t play as Ellis became the first Florida goalie to start games on consecutive days this season.
Ellis shutout Carolina on Saturday and had a strong game against the Rangers.
“[Luongo’s] getting closer,” Gallant said.
This and that
▪ The Panthers’ backup practice goalie contest, which has drawn national media attention as well as 1,500 online applicants, will be held at the BB&T Center on Monday at noon. Fans are invited to attend the event, and admission is free.
▪ The Rangers held a pregame ceremony honoring defenseman Dan Boyle for playing in his 1,000th NHL game on March 4. Boyle signed with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Ohio) and played parts of four seasons with Florida from 1998-2002 until he was traded to the Lightning for a fifth round draft pick. Boyle, 38, won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004.
▪ Florida has lost six in a row to the Rangers (0-3 this year), and have been outscored 24-12 in the process.