Rangers grind out 6-3 win over Panthers

By on February 3, 2015

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The Rangers turnovers and blown coverages in Monday night’s 6-3 win over the Florida Panthers — and the presence of Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney among NHL scouts at the Garden — were reminders that Glen Sather could add a forward and defenseman prior to the March 2 trade deadline.

The Blueshirts’ second straight win was also the latest illustration that they need more from the talent they have on the roster no matter what their general manager acquires in the next month.

Take captain Ryan McDonagh, last season’s team MVP, who committed several turnovers in a shockingly bad start. McDonagh’s first giveaway gave Florida a 1-0 lead less than five minutes in, but he rebounded to chip in an assist and help pace a forceful, team-wide third-period attack to pull away from a 3-3 tie.

“I think early I wasn’t quick enough in my decision-making,” he said. “I know the team depends on me, and I don’t think I let it affect me after that.”

Rick Nash scored twice to continue his quest for league MVP, including a beautiful shorthanded finish early to rescue his stumbling mates. His 31st goal of the season, an empty-netter, tied the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin for the league lead.

Struggling right wing Mats Zuccarello, who is in the same boat as McDonagh, finished as the game’s first star with his first goal in 11 games and added an assist. Carl Hagelin finished with a staggering game-high eight shots on goal and an assist.

McDonagh insisted the Rangers (29-15-4, 62 points) feel confident in their current roster, even though Monday’s six-goal outburst came at the expense of countless quality Panthers chances snuffed out only by Henrik Lundqvist (33 saves).

“Everybody feels good about the group we have,” McDonagh said of a potential pre-deadline shakeup. “Those decisions are up to management. But right now, our line shuffle has paid off with some goals here, and we just have to keep working hard to defend. That’s been our foundation, and at times I think we’ve gotten away from that a little bit, but we showed mental toughness tonight to stick with it.”

It will take a lot for the Rangers to miss the playoffs. Their 13-1-0 record from Dec. 8 through Jan. 10 created distance. They are third in the Metropolitan Division, while Florida (21-17-10, 52 points), the first team out in the East, is eight points behind eighth-place Washington.

The Stanley Cup was on Alain Vigneault’s mind when Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell — a member of last season’s champion Los Angeles Kings — tipped Dan Boyle’s third-period shot into Florida’s net on Monday.

“It’s funny, when that happened, it was Mitchell, who was with L.A. last year, and I had a quick: ‘Why wouldn’t that happen last year?’ ” Vigneault said with a laugh.

It is through that championship lens that Sather will make his decisions this month about a team already up against the $ 69 million cap ceiling, with few expendable assets that also could draw significant value.

This is not to ignore several positives that emerged from Monday night’s goal eruption in which, as Lundqvist put it, “our speed beat this team tonight,” and the Rangers played with pride. 

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