The Panthers will be the first to admit that they didn’t play well enough to beat the Rangers on Monday night.
Yet with one goal waved off and another possibly affected by an overzealous and out-of-position official, Florida wasn’t feeling too great after a 4-2 loss at Madison Square Garden.
The Panthers fell behind 2-0 after another lackluster start against a team in a playoff seeding race yet had two prime chances to tie the score ripped away.
Early in the third, Vincent Trocheck drove in and put a puck off the left side of the cage. The puck worked over to the right side where Jussi Jokinen was waiting. Unfortunately for Jokinen, so, too, was referee TJ Luxmore, who was standing directly in the crease.
Jokinen tried to get the puck through as Luxmore leapt into the air but hit the post. The soft shot — Henrik Lundqvist lost his stick in the flurry of activity and it affected Jokinen’s trajectory — clipped the cage as well and slowly hugged the goal line slowed by ice shavings and crept out of danger’s way.
3 The number of years, to the day, since the Florida Panthers last defeated the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden.
“It’s not a fun feeling when the goalie is out but the ref is right there,’’ said Jokinen, who echoed many who said they had never seen an official taking up that piece of prime real estate during a game. “Yeah, we had a lot of chances and made too many mistakes. We had enough chances to score four or five goals. But I need to put the puck in. It’s on me. I need to score on that. That’s on me.’’
Said coach Gerard Gallant: “A lot of things didn’t go our way. Some of the calls didn’t go our way. What do you say? ... That was frustrating when you see that happen. The guy was standing in the net. I’ve never seen that before, but those guys have a tough job to do.’’
Later in the period, Steven Kampfer appeared to bring Florida within a goal but Eric Furlatt — Luxmore’s partner — immediately waved it off for a high stick.
Replays showed it was a close play, and an official review declared video inconclusive and not enough to reverse a call on the ice.
The Panthers were pretty upset such a close call was made so quickly on the ice, especially after the snafu with Luxmore moments before.
“The bounces go for you sometimes and sometimes they don’t,’’ Trocheck said. “Kampfer’s non-goal was real close, and we thought it would be called our way. We didn’t capitalize or execute.’’
Florida eventually got a goal to count when Trocheck and Jokinen came flying up ice with Trocheck knocking a pass from Jokinen past Lundqvist at 6:51 of the third.
The Rangers took their two-goal lead back, however, when Florida’s Teddy Purcell tried to clear the puck away from goalie Al Montoya deep in the zone with a soft backhand.
Instead, the puck was picked off by Kevin Klein who fed Rick Nash. The former Carolina Hurricanes star, who hadn’t scored since December, put one past Montoya.
The Panthers kept coming and made it 3-2 with 36 seconds remaining on a 6-on-4 power play chance as Jiri Hudler beat Lundqvist from Purcell.
New York, however, ended it with an empty-net goal
The Panthers, who have lost their past two by a combined 9-5, are now 3-7-3 against current playoff teams since the All-Star break and haven’t beaten a team holding a postseason spot since last month.
“I’m disappointed because we’re not getting the 60 minutes we are looking for,’’ Gallant said. “It’s a clutch time of the year, and you want your team playing well, playing hard. A lot of guys aren’t playing the game they were all year. We need to get going.’’
▪ Roberto Luongo was given Monday off with Montoya given the nod against the Rangers.
Montoya, despite being a first-round draft pick by the Rangers, played in just his second at Madison Square Garden. Montoya, who made 28 saves, is 0-2 against the Rangers at MSG.
Gallant said Luongo wasn’t sat because Florida lost a pair of games last week in which it held a two-goal lead with Luongo in net.
“Montoya has played well, and Luongo played the past two,’’ Gallant said. “There’s no reason behind it. We have a plan, and we’re sticking by it. Montoya plays well every time he comes in.’’
▪ The Panthers have lost five consecutive games at MSG and haven’t won here in exactly three years. Florida’s last win in New York over the Rangers was March 21, 2013.