The Panthers clawed out a 4-3 shootout win against the host New York Rangers on Friday night to add two more points to the bank late in the season.
After a low-scoring, losing affair in Columbus the night before, the Panthers knew there wasn’t much room for error as they went back to work on Friday for their second game in as many games.
Aleksander Barkov notched the only goal of the shootout to give him league-leading 7th of the season and third game-decider with a quick backhand move to the top-shelf behind goaltender Antti Raanta.
The Panthers’ 31st win of the season gives them 73 points, putting them 5 points back of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 12 games remaining.
Things weren’t looking too good early on, however, as the Panthers allowed 2 goals in 4:11 to start the 1st period with the Rangers coming at them in waves.
Head coach Tom Rowe called a timeout after the second goal and the Panthers would go on to outshot the Rangers 18-3 over the next 23 minutes while getting goals from Jonathan Huberdeau and Jussi Jokinen.
Huberdeau, who had a goal disallowed in Columbus on Thursday, scored his 6th of the season in a similar fashion by putting home a rebound as the puck came loose at the top of the crease.
Jokinen tied the game at 2 on the Panthers’ second power play of the night as Thomas Vanek sent perfect cross-ice pass which was deposited top-shelf on an empty net. The assist was Vanek’s 6th in the last 3 games and his 7th point in 8 games since being acquired from the Red Wings at the trade deadline.
In the 3rd period, the Panthers took a 3-2 lead on a tic-tac-toe passing play by the top line of Huberdeau, Barkov, and Jagr. Barkov lost his defender and scored on a pinpoint pass through the blue paint to the side of the net by Jagr, giving the 45-year old the most points in league history by a player over the age of 40.
The lead lasted 4 minutes and 22 seconds before Mats Zuccarello scored his second goal of the game on a wrist shot that went 5-hole off the rush.
In the shootout, James Reimer stopped 2 shots before Michael Grabner missed on the Rangers third attempt to secure the victory for the Panthers.
Reimer finished with 29 saves on 32 shots as he made consecutive starts in back-to-back games, something that’s rare for goalies to do.
The Panthers will take the season series from the Rangers having defeated them twice in 3 meetings, with the two wins coming in the shootout at Madison Square Garden.
The 3-game road trip will wrap up on Sunday as the Panthers take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the third and final time this season. Pittsburgh has taken the first two meetings, the first of which was a 5-1 decision in Florida on December 8th.