Things just aren’t clicking for the Panthers.
Whether it’s mental or something completely different, the Panthers just haven’t been the same since their franchise-record 5-game road win streak from mid-February, which is now just a distant memory.
The Rangers, on the second game of a back-to-back after an overtime win against the Rangers on Monday, came into the BB&T Center on Tuesday night and handed the Panthers their 3rd straight loss and their 6th in the past 7 games.
On a night when the Panther honored Olli Jokinen – their franchise leader in goals and points – as he signed a one-day contract to retire with the team, a couple of other former Panthers had a hand in the loss.
Steven Kampfer, now a member of the Rangers after being dealt north in a November trade for Dylan McIlrath, had his bouncing point shot deflected by Chris Kreider past James Reimer to open the scoring 9:25 into the 1st period.
Kampfer faced the Panthers for the first time since the trade after playing in 73 games for the team over 3 seasons.
Three minutes and 35 seconds later, Tanner Glass, who was drafted by the Panthers in the 9th round of the 2003 Draft and played in 44 games with the franchise, was left all alone at the side of the net and easily put home a rebound to make it 2-0.
A stretch pass through the neutral zone allowed Kevin Hayes, brother of former Panther Jimmy Hayes, to fly up the ice and score the Rangers’ 3rd goal on a nice move to the backhand.
Deadline pickup Thomas Vanek scored his first goal as a Panther in his third game with the team when he picked up a loose puck in the low slot and rifled it past Henrik Lundqvist, who made 42 saves en route to his 404th career victor, taking sole possession of 10th on the all-time wins list.
Glass picked up his second point of the game, an assist, on Nick Holden’s slap shot goal which spelled the end of the night for Reimer, who finished with 15 saves on 19 shots, a stat line more indicative of the play in front of him than his own.
Reto Berra entered the game to make his first appearance for the Panthers since being acquired during the off-season following a deal that sent Rocco Grimaldi to the Avalanche. Berra last suited up for an NHL club on December 9th, 2015 when he allowed 4 goals in a loss to the Avalanche, but he was perfect on Tuesday night, stopping all 7 shots he faced in relief.
The Panthers’ final goal of the evening came off the stick of Aaron Ekblad on the power play to make it 5-2, but the Rangers iced it with an empty-netter less than 2 minutes later.
The Islanders defeated the Oilers on Tuesday, putting the Panthers 4 points back of the second Wild Card spot with 17 games left. The team insists that they still have it in them to push through this rough patch and make the playoffs, but things are becoming more and more difficult with each passing game, especially after a lackluster effort such as this one.
The loss comes days after Tom Rowe called out Reilly Smith and the entire Panthers team for cheating defensively to try to create offense as well as being too fancy with the puck and forcing their own turnovers. He felt the team responded, but it didn’t appear that way to the others that saw the game.
“I felt bad for the guys to be honest with you,” said Rowe on what his thoughts were after the opening period when the Panthers fell behind 2-0. “They were working, they did every single thing we asked them to do.”
It was certainly a different tone from the rookie NHL coach than what he had used following the end of Saturday’s loss to Dallas and at Monday’s closed practice.
“I’ve kicked them pretty hard the past few days and I thought they responded,” said Rowe.
After a late, 4:30 PM practice on Wednesday and another one on Thursday, the Panthers will host the Minnesota Wild on Friday at home. The Panthers lost 5-1 when the two teams last met in December in Minnesota.