Markstrom, Panthers stop Rangers 3-1Florida Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom (35) stops a shot on the goal by New York Rangers' Chris Kreider (20) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 21, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
NEW YORK (AP) -- Jacob Markstrom made 44 saves and just missed his first NHL shutout, and the cellar-dwelling Florida Panthers dealt the playoff-hopeful New York Rangers a big blow in a 3-1 victory Thursday night.
The Rangers had gotten back into eighth place in the Eastern Conference with wins on two consecutive nights this week after a three-game skid. But Markstrom was sharp and shut down offensively challenged New York.
Markstrom, who has played in only nine games since being recalled from the minor leagues in February, earned his third NHL win of the season and fifth in 17 career games.
Markstrom lost his shutout bid when Marian Gaborik cut the Rangers' deficit to 2-1 with 3:48 left, but the 23-year-old goalie settled for wins in back-to-back games. Gaborik had gone seven games without a goal.
Brian Campbell scored in the first period, and Scottie Upshall made it 2-0 in the second against Henrik Lundqvist, who faced 23 shots. Florida (9-16-6) has the fewest points in the NHL.
The Rangers had a chance to tie it when they received a power play with just over a minute left, but Tomas Kopecky scored into an empty net with 45.9 seconds remaining to seal it for Florida.
The Panthers were on a 1-7-2 slide before they won at Carolina on Tuesday in front of Markstrom (3-5-1). This is just the team's second two-game winning streak this season.
The Rangers appeared to be getting back on track with wins over Carolina and New Jersey, and their offense showed signs of life by netting three goals for the first time in five games on Tuesday.
They couldn't sustain it.
The Rangers played yet another sluggish and uninspired first period, as they have done in a recent trend, and fell behind 1-0 despite holding a 12-7 shots edge in the frame.
Florida grabbed the lead during its only power play of the period. T.J. Brennan faked a shot at the right point and slid a pass across the zone to defense partner Campbell, who fired a slap shot from the upper inside edge of the right circle that appeared to clip the stick of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh before it sailed past Lundqvist at 8:22. It was Campbell's seventh goal of the season.
The Rangers didn't look much better in the second, and they were booed off the ice as they trudged to the dressing room down by two goals.
Again, New York got the best of Florida in shots - this time 15-9 - but only one puck found the net, and it was the one behind Lundqvist.
During a scramble in front, Lundqvist stopped a shot by Jack Skille, but he couldn't keep Upshall from popping in the rebound at 4:28.
Markstrom was much busier at the other end. He had a scare when a shot got behind him after it struck the post and slid dangerously through the crease. Markstrom then made a good stop to deny Gaborik's backhander from in front late in the second.
Lundqvist kept the Rangers' deficit at 2-0 when he turned away Peter Mueller's breakaway chance with 1:25 remaining in the second after Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto misplayed the puck at the point in the Panthers zone.
NOTES: The Panthers are 32-5-13 since the 2011-12 season when they score the first goal. ... Rangers rookie LW Chris Kreider was back in the New York lineup for the first time since Feb. 26, his last game before being sent down to Connecticut of the AHL. He was recalled Wednesday after posting six goals and an assist in his eight-game stint in the minors. ... Referee Jean Hebert was tended to by the Rangers' training staff after his mouth was bloodied in the first period. He remained in the game.