Florida Panthers finish strong month with shootout loss to Rangers

The Panthers lost to the Rangers in a shootout, but they matched a franchise record by earning their 17th point in December.

01/01/2014 12:01 AM

03/14/2014 2:45 PM

Not all of 2013 was bad for the Florida Panthers. In fact, Florida wouldn’t mind if December kept going.

The Panthers tied a franchise record with their 17th point of the month by picking up one in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers on Tuesday at BB&T Center.

Had Florida won — and it came dangerously close to doing so — the team really would have had a month for the record books.

“We’re picking up some momentum, doing some good things,’’ said goalie Tim Thomas, who made his first start in three weeks and made 30 saves. “We’re a much better team than we were in October. If we keep making strides, that’s the direction we want to go.’’

New owner Vinnie Viola pulled the team out of the locker room following the game for a little pep talk and to wish them all a happy New Year.

For the Panthers, turning the page on 2013 is welcomed. Not only did Florida finish last season with the worst record in the league for the first time, but a 3-9-4 start also cost Kevin Dineen his job behind the bench.

The Panthers went 8-5-1 in the final month of ’13 after going 4-8-3 in November.

“The guys battled hard,’’ interim coach Peter Horachek said. “We need to take something positive out of it. We need to be comfortable in a one-goal game.’’

The Panthers, swept by the Rangers this season, had been waiting on Thomas for a few weeks after he tweaked his groin in practice on Dec. 12. Thomas was taken off the injured list on Christmas Eve, but backup Scott Clemmensen got the next two starts just to be safe.

“I think it was a wise choice to sit him,’’ Horachek said. “We didn’t want him in and out. He does it again, you’re missing weeks.’’

With Thomas tossing back shots, the Panthers took the game to the Rangers but led only 1-0 after Brad Boyes’ goal in the second.

Boyes, who became Florida’s first 10-goal scorer of the season, backhanded a slick feed from Aleksander Barkov through Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s skates.

“We need to keep the wins going, get some points,’’ said Boyes, who leads Florida in goals but has just two in his past 18 games.

The Rangers had new life when Florida failed to do much on a four-minute power play in the third after Nick Bjugstad left the ice after taking a stick to the face.

New York tied it with 2:10 left on a Brad Richards shot.

Florida still had chances and came very close to winning it in the waning seconds of overtime, but Tomas Fleischmann’s shot went wide.

The Panthers went 0-3 in the shootout as Richards’ goal won it on New York’s third shot.

“We played well but sat back in the third period,’’ Boyes said. “We didn’t generate chances, much less a goal, and that hurt us.’’

Thomas hopeful

The roster for the U.S. Olympic team will be announced Wednesday afternoon, and Thomas has made a strong case to be included.

Although the Detroit Free Press reported that Jimmy Howard would be the third goalie, Thomas is convinced a decision will not be made until just before the announcement.

Thomas missed the past three weeks with a groin injury, but he isn’t alone. Howard came back from a knee injury Monday and looked very rusty in a loss to Nashville. Thomas, on the other hand, has looked sharp and has won three of his past four starts and is giving up fewer than two goals in each of those games.

• Center Barkov, 18, continues to impress and his nice pass led to Florida’s goal. Barkov moved into a tie for sixth on the NHL’s rookie scoring list with his 19th point Tuesday.

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