The Panthers were well on their way to yet another loss to the Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist on Saturday night before Sasha Barkov and Jaromir Jagr stepped in.
Those two scored within a span of 39 seconds in the final minutes to tie the score and force overtime.
The Panthers couldn’t overcome a penalty in extra time, however, as Rick Nash’s third goal of the night ended it, and the Rangers left BB&T Center with a 5-4 win.
“We played, in my opinion, one of the best team in the NHL, and we took it to them a little bit,’’ said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team outshot the Rangers 43-31. “I liked a lot of things we did. We had some great chances, there was no quit.’’
Florida, which has now lost seven in a row to the Rangers and 11 of 13, was less than three minutes away from a regulation loss — and no points in the standings — before Barkov gave the Panthers life with 2:28 left.
Jagr then whipped a heavy wrist shot over Lundqvist with 1:49 remaining to tie it.
“Those were big goals,’’ Barkov said. “This is a big point for us. Of course, we wanted two points, but we’re proud of the way we played.”
Florida, unbelievably, had a chance to tie the score seven seconds after Jagr’s goal when Reilly Smith had a penalty shot that Lundqvist blocked.
“Even when we were down two goals, I thought we played a great game,’’ Jagr said. “That’s the way we should play, and we have good enough players to do it all the time. That’s our game, and we proved that even though that’s a good team, we can cycle the puck, work the boards.’’
In overtime, the Rangers got the benefit of a close bench minor on the Panthers for having too many men on the ice.
The Rangers had a 4-on-3 man advantage and cashed in when Nash worked his way around the defense and sent a shot past Roberto Luongo with 3:59 left. Instead of Florida victory rats crashing the ice after the game, some transplanted New York fans sent their baseball caps onto the surface to celebrate.
“This is a tough way to lose,’’ said Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida’s first goal to make it 1-1 in the second. “We gave them some opportunities we shouldn’t have.’’
Luongo was far from perfect and wasn’t on the ice when Florida got its two late goals as Gallant pulled him from net for the extra skater.
Barkov’s goal came on a power play, so the Panthers’ had a 6-to-4 advantage when he pounced on a loose puck off a Jonathan Huberdeau shot.
On Jagr’s goal, Luongo was again on the bench giving Florida an extra attacker.
“You’re down two, we’re having problems scoring and they have one of the best goalies in the league,’’ Gallant said. “When they got the penalty, why not? We put a lot of pressure on them, put some shots through.”
New York broke a 2-2 tie in the third when Mats Zuccarello broke free and beat Luongo. Less than two minutes later, Viktor Stalberg scored, seemingly putting the Panthers out of their misery.