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Blowout win enhances Rangers' playoff hopes

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers are eager to devour as many points as they can in the final 10 games of the truncated NHL regular season.

Just ask Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen.

"They're Cookie Monsters that are certainly out there and hungry at the end of the game," Dineen said after the Rangers' 6-1 win over the Panthers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Ten Rangers recorded at least one point, led by Rick Nash, who finished with a goal and two assists. Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello each scored two goals, and Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards added two points each.

With the victory, the Rangers improved to 22-17-4 and strengthened their tenuous grip on the Eastern Conference's eighth seed.

"The main thing you can ask for is that it's in our hands," Richards said. "We plan on being in there and moving up.

"We just have to get in."

The Rangers have 48 points, tied with the Winnipeg Jets. They trail the seventh-place New York Islanders by three points. The Islanders defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 on Thursday night, but the Rangers have a game in hand on the Islanders.

The Islanders are off Friday. The Rangers will be in Buffalo to play a Sabres team that has won three in a row and is four points behind New York.

"(We) have to play better (because we are) playing a better team, a more desperate team," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 34 saves to record his 20th win of the season. Lundqvist has won at least 20 games in his eight seasons in New York.

One of the themes through the truncated season has been the Rangers' inability to start strong. That was not the case against Florida, as the Rangers went into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead.

Brassard opened the scoring 3:05 into the game with a power-play, goal-mouth stuff-in of a Nash rebound. Six minutes later, Nash increased the lead to 2-0 by ripping a Callahan feed over Scott Clemmensen, who had 24 saves.

"It was important," Richards said. "We haven't had a lot of leads."

Jonathan Huberdeau scored Florida's goal, a wrister over Lundqvist at 15:17 of the first. The goal was Huberdeau's 14th of the season.

"I felt that if we were going to give ourselves a chance to win this game from three goals back, we had to push extremely hard. The game finished ugly, and that's the nature of it," Dineen said. "That's what we are going to see every time against these guys."

Florida surged after Huberdeau's goal and began pressuring the Rangers. The Panthers outshot New York 35-30 overall. However, discipline was an issue, as the Rangers went 2-for-4 on the power play and killed Florida's lone man-advantage opportunity, after a Zuccarello trip in the second period.

New York has killed 21 of 23 power plays against in nine games.

"The penalty killing has been good, and in the last six or seven games has given us a chance to stay in the game when our power play is not working that well," New York coach John Tortorella said.

Zuccarello made up for the penalty with his second goal of the season 16:34 into the second.

"It's a huge goal," Nash said."It's what we needed; it came at a perfect time. It's a great play. A good skill play from him. It's a big deal."

The Rangers turned the game into a rout in the third as Zuccarello and Brassard scored their second goals of the game and Richards potted his seventh of the season.

NOTES: Chris Kreider replaced center Brian Boyle in the Rangers' lineup. Boyle suffered an undisclosed injury in Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia. Tortorella said in his pregame press conference that there were organizational discussions about other players, but the decision to call up Kreider was made "to try to play with more pace." ... Tortorella announced Boyle won't play in Friday's game in Buffalo and Sunday's matinee game against the New Jersey Devils. ... New York announced Thursday morning that the organization agreed to terms with free agent forward Michael Kantor. A 21-year old right winger, Kantor had 33 points (20 goals, 13 assists) and 93 penalty minutes in 56 regular-season games with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. Kantor had four points (two goals, two assists) and 12 penalty minutes in nine playoff games. ... Florida has an NHL-worst 13-24-6 record. ... Ryan Callahan was presented with the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award prior to the game. Named for a New York City police officer who was wounded while on duty, the award is given to the player who goes "above and beyond the call of duty." Callahan has won the award four times. Only Adam Graves has won the award more often, with five. "We have so much respect for him," Tortorella said of McDonald, who gave a speech prior to the presentation of the award. "I'm always anxious to hear what he's going to say before the game when he comes out."
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