The Panthers found out Wednesday night that the New York Rangers probably aren’t the ideal guests to invite to their New Year’s Eve party.
Playing its third game in four nights, Florida looked flat and, well, partied out as the defending Eastern Conference champions got back on the winning track with a relatively easy 5-2 victory at BB&T Center.
The Rangers had won eight in a row before losing Monday in Dallas and went 9-3-0 in December.
The Panthers had registered at least a point in their previous eight home games before losing in regulation Wednesday.
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“They dominated pretty much most of the night,” said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant, whose team mustered just 20 shots against one of the league’s top goalies in Henrik Lundqvist.
“Most of the night the Rangers were all over us. They were fast, and they dominated. … We weren’t good enough, and that was the best team we’ve seen all year.”
On Wednesday, most of the traits that have brought the Panthers success so far this season weren’t there, as they seldom hit anyone and didn’t block a New York shot until late in the second period.
Al Montoya started against the team that drafted him a decade ago and did a good job of keeping his new teammates in the game.
Although the Rangers scored late in the first period on a Chris Kreider goal for a 1-0 lead at the intermission, Montoya kept it from being much, much worse.
“He made some great saves for us,” said Jimmy Hayes, who scored in his first game playing against younger brother Kevin.
“We need to be more aware on the ice defensively.”
The Rangers kept up the pressure in the second and scored the first two goals of the frame to take a 3-0 lead.
The Panthers showed a little life late in the second as Tomas Fleischmann broke out after picking up a long pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and beat Lundqvist to make it 3-1.
King Henrik didn’t give the Panthers much more room after that, although Florida pulled within one after Hayes scored off an off-balance pass from Aleksander Barkov on a power-play chance.
Minutes later, Florida nemesis Martin St. Louis knocked in a loose puck — it was reviewed, as it appeared to be kicked in — to make it 4-2.
With 4:25 left in the game, Dominic Moore followed up a St. Louis shot to make it 5-2.
With the assist, St. Louis passed old Tampa Bay teammate Vinny Lecavalier for most points scored against the Panthers with 73.
“Martin’s a very good player, and he’s owned a lot of teams over the years,” Gallant said.
“It’s disappointing. We got out-worked, out-competed for much of the night. I guess we were due for one of those games.”
Nick Bjugstad had a pretty memorable night on Tuesday. Not long after scoring the game-tying goal in an eventual 2-1 shootout loss to the Canadiens, Bjugstad signed a six-year deal with the Panthers worth $24.6 million.
Bjugstad would have been a restricted free agent this summer, so his new contract doesn’t kick in until next season.
“Thankfully, we could get the deal done halfway through the season rather than wait,” Bjugstad said on Wednesday.
“I didn’t want to deal with any of that.”
The new deal locks up one of the Panthers’ top young talents for the foreseeable future.
Not only is Bjugstad committed to the Panthers during his restricted free agency but also for the first few years when he could be unrestricted and sign anywhere else. General manager Dale Tallon finalized the deal with Bjugstad’s agent during the first intermission of Tuesday’s game. Bjugstad signed the paperwork not long after the game ended with owner Vinny Viola.
“It’s a great deal and sends a great message that we’re committed to our young players,” Tallon said.
“Not only is he a really good hockey player, but he’s a tremendous young man of character. That’s important to us.”
▪ The Panthers ended 2014 with a successful December despite the final outcome against the Rangers. Florida went 7-4-3 in the last month of the year and had its eight-game home streak of getting at least one point (6-0-2) snapped on Wednesday.