Rangers 4, Panthers 0
“I’m glad about it because they don’t get a big head,” Jaromir Jagr said after his two-goal performance and the efforts of his young teammates helped the New York Rangers to a 4-0 victory Saturday over the Florida Panthers.
While debate rages whether Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby or Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin is the NHL’s best first-year player, the tandem of Lundqvist and Prucha is quietly aiding the Rangers in their quest for the team’s first playoff appearance since 1997.
Lundqvist made a career-high 38 saves in his second career shutout—both against Florida—and Prucha scored his 20th goal as New York snapped a three-game losing streak.
“There are so many good rookies in the league, I just have to keep focusing on my game,” Lundqvist said. “There are so many young guys coming up all the time, you need to establish yourself.”
Jagr, the NHL points leader with 65, boosted his goal total to 27 with two, and Ville Nieminen added one for the Rangers, who snapped a three-game losing streak for the fourth time this season.
Michael Nylander had three assists.
It was only fitting for Lundqvist and Prucha to shine on Kids’ Day at Madison Square Garden.
“Petr’s on fire,” Lundqvist said. “I face him every day in practice. I know how skilled he is.”
Prucha is the first Rangers rookie to score 20 goals since Mike York had 26 during the 1999-2000 season and it’s taken him only half the hockey year to do it. Not bad for a guy who was sent down to the minors earlier this season and struggled to get playing time.
“I cannot be rookie of the year,” Prucha said. “I’m not a complete player like Crosby or Ovechkin. Here, I’m just a little piece of a big machine.”
He hit the milestone in the second period with 6 seconds left on New York’s two-man advantage. Martin Rucinsky moved the puck down low, and Martin Straka completed the scoring play by crossing a pass right to left to Prucha, who banged a shot in with a second whack at 6:27.
Prucha, who along with Rucinsky and Straka were chosen for the Czech Republic Olympic team, scored his 10th on the power play to give New York a 3-0 lead. Jagr put the game away at 12:50 of the third.
Lundqvist did the rest as his name was chanted several times by the appreciative crowd.
“I could stay out there all night,” Lundqvist said.
He flashed his glove to deny Nathan Horton midway through the first period when Florida recorded 15 shots. Then he turned aside Rostislav Olesz’s breakaway attempt with 2:28 left in the second period, when the Panthers registered another 15.
The 23-year-old Swedish Olympic goalie sat out Thursday’s overtime loss to Philadelphia but was sharp against Florida, the team he beat 4-0 with 23 saves on Oct. 17. In three games versus the Panthers, Lundqvist is 3-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average.
“He was always in the way,” Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said. “Sometimes in a game like this you need a little bit of luck.”
Lundqvist, who has made 38 saves three times, allowed only an overtime goal Tuesday in a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay at home. He is 10-2-2 at the Garden.
Jagr staked the Rangers to a 1-0 advantage just 4:39 in after being set up nicely by Straka and Nylander.
Nylander got away from Joe Nieuwendyk along the right-side boards and slid a pass to Straka near the left post. Instead of shooting, Straka found Jagr, who steered a shot in by the right post.
Luongo made 21 saves after a rare relief appearance on Wednesday in an overtime loss against the Islanders. Florida, which will complete a season-high, five-game road trip Sunday at Washington, dropped its third straight (0-2-1) after a season-best three-game winning streak.
Rangers C Blair Betts sprained his left knee less than 3 minutes in and didn’t return. He left on crutches and will have an MRI on Sunday. … Panthers D Steve Montador missed the final 4:39 of the first period after being struck in the face by a shot fired by Straka. He received stitches in his chin and came back. … Florida, which entered with the NHL’s 23rd-ranked power play went 0-for-5 against the Rangers. New York had allowed three man-advantage goals three times in five games.