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Rangers still searching for wins after loss to Panthers

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- The Florida Panthers struggled through a season full of losses and injuries, but were still able to add to the New York Rangers' frustrations Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Panthers savored a back-to-back win for just the second time this season with their 3-1 victory over the Rangers, and are starting to feel a budding sense of momentum for a young team full of new players.

"With that kind of nothing-to-lose mentality, you look at our lineup on paper, a lot of young guys and guys that haven't had much experience, it's a good group," said forward Scottie Upshall, who scored his second goal in his 10th game of the season after being limited most of the past two months due to an ankle injury. "It's a group put together with great leaders and guys that have taken advantage of the opportunity to play more minutes and (are) doing the right things. The last two games, it's been good, it's been good."

Jacob Markstrom added to the good feeling, making a career-high 44 saves against his fellow Swede, Henrik Lundqvist, only losing a shutout bid in the last four minutes. Brian Campbell scored a power-play goal and Tomas Kopecky added a short-handed empty-netter in the final minute to wrap up the game for Florida (9-16-6).

For the Rangers (15-13-2), things are not feeling so good during an up-and-down season that started with projections of Stanley Cup contention. New York had won two in a row but was unable to cash in on its shot advantage, scoring only a late goal from Marian Gaborik in the game's final four minutes. Along with outshooting the Panthers 45-24 and still losing by two, the Rangers had to deal with more struggles on the power play (0-for-3) as well as a failed penalty kill.

It all left alternate captain Brad Richards feeling "confused and lost."

"We did a lot of good things, but it's getting old," Lundqvist said. "Teams find ways to win. That's what we're lacking."

Trailing for most of the game, the Rangers got on the board with just 3:48 left when Gaborik skated between two defenders and flipped in a backhand shot to Markstrom's left. Rick Nash and Michael Del Zotto received assists on the play for the Rangers, who were unable to slip another one past Markstrom.

The Rangers had a two-man advantage as they pulled Lundqvist after going on a power play in the final minute, but Kopecky snagged the puck and put the game away with a long shot at the empty net.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said the goal, which came shortly after Kopecky was knocked down, not only sealed the game, but provided an intangible effect for his team that has endured several key injuries.

"Kopy's been a good player for us all year and that was a key play for us," Dineen said. "You get knocked down, but you get back up again. That's what we need. We're beat up, there's no doubt about it. We've got a lot of bodies sitting at home watching. So for Kopy to get up and say I'm getting right back in the hockey game is important for our team."

Up 1-0 after the first period, the struggling Panthers showed in the second they wouldn't give the lead back too quickly. Florida made it a 2-0 game early in the second, sparking boos from the crowd at the Garden.

Upshall poked in a rebound from close range, with assists to Jack Skille and Shawn Matthias and the Panthers had doubled their lead at 4:28 of the second.

The Panthers took a 1-0 lead at 8:22 of the first on Campbell's seventh goal of the season, with assists to TJ Brennan and Jonathan Huberdeau.

"I don't think our start was great," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "I don't think it was us overlooking them."

Asked if the Rangers' inconsistent play left them searching, Tortorella said, "The only thing we're searching for is wins."

Notes: Rangers forward Chris Kreider had seven points (six goals, one assist) in eight games for Connecticut, leading to his return to the lineup, on the third line, after being promoted from the AHL affiliate Wednesday. "He's done quite a bit of work ... down there," Tortorella said in his pregame news conference. "He hasn't gotten it figured out and we don't expect him to. But they think he's progressing." ... Lundqvist told reporters at the morning skate he felt OK following Tuesday's collision with Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. Lundqvist suffered headaches and a sore neck. ... Rangers forward Arron Asham, out since Feb. 19 with back issues, participated in the morning skate and said he hoped to return Sunday. ... Panthers rookie Erick Selleck, who was suspended for two games after his first NHL game Tuesday, was sent home with a concussion, the team announced at the morning skate. It was sustained during his bout Tuesday with Carolina Hurricanes forward Kevin Westgarth. Selleck was suspended for leaving the bench to start the fight. ... Panthers forward Alex Kovalev, who had been the only remaining active player from the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team, officially retired, according to the Miami Herald. Kovalev, who hadn't appeared in a game in nearly a month after playing in 14 for Florida this year, had 1,029 points in 1,316 career games.
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