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SUNRISE, Fla. -- The season has been a win-one, lose-one struggle for the New York Rangers, who have aspirations for more.
But at least the calendar year ended on a high note with a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at the BB&T Center.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was strong in the game, stopping 21 of 22 shots, while defenseman Dan Girardi scored in regulation and center Brad Richards scored the only goal of the shootout to lead New York to victory.
"That was a great move by a great player," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of Richards. "And then Hank (Lundqvist) shut them down on the last one."
Lundqvist, who recently signed a long-term contract extension, improved to 12-15-2. His strong performance was a hopeful sign for the Rangers because this so far has been the worst season of his stellar NHL career.
He never had a season in which he was less than eight games over .500. In addition, Lundqvist's 2.77 goals-against-average and .906 save percentages are also -- so far -- the worst marks of his career.
"We're getting there," Lundqvist said. "I'm trying to take it 20 minutes at a time to try to get a good feeling and do the right things.
"Our special teams were really great. Our power play created a lot of chances, and our penalty kill stepped up big in the third."
The Rangers shut out the Panthers on four power-play opportunity, including a four-minute penalty on Richards in the third period.
New York (20-19-2), which ended the year winning four of its last five, forced overtime when Girardi, parked in the slot, took a feed from center Derek Stepan and snapped a wrist shot that beat Panthers goalie Tim Thomas high to the glove side.
The play opened up for the Rangers when Panthers right winger Tomas Kopecky broke his stick and raced to the bench for a replacement.
"It's a little bit surprising that he would go there," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said of Kopecky. "I don't think that was a great time (to leave) when the puck is behind your net. If you leave, there is obviously a big area open."
In the shootout, New York right winger Mats Zuccarello and Stepan missed, and the same was true for Panthers centers Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Then, after Richards scored, Lundqvist stopped right winger Brad Boyes to earn the victory.
Lundqvist said he "corrected his thinking" in how he approached the shootout.
"I slowed down a bit and had more control," he said. "I felt it was easier for me to make the right moves and not bite too fast."
The Panthers saw the return of a key player in Thomas, 39, who was playing his first game since he re-injured his groin Dec. 10. Thomas made 30 saves in regulation and overtime combined and two more in the shootout -- but it wasn't enough.
Playing in his 400th NHL game, Thomas (9-11-1) played well, shutting down the Rangers' power play, which went 0-for-3. On Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Rangers scored three power-play goals.
"It was one of those nights when if I could see it, I could save it," Thomas said.
The Panthers (15-20-6), who ended the year losing four of their last five, opened the scoring with 10:42 left in the second period. Boyes broke up a goaltenders' duel when he took a centering pass from Barkov and softly slipped the puck between the legs of Lundqvist. It was Boyes' 10th goal of the season.
Despite the loss, Thomas was optimistic.
"We're a much better team than we were in October," he said. "We just have to keep moving in this direction."
NOTES: Rangers RW Ryan Callahan (knee) is practicing, albeit with no contact, and he could return in mid-January. ... Healthy scratches for the Rangers: D Michael Del Zotto, LW Taylor Pyatt and D Justin Falk. ... Rangers D Anton Stralman played with an injured left wrist. ... The Panthers' scratches were RW Scottie Upshall, C Scott Gomez and D Mike Mottau. Gomez and Mottau are former Rangers. ... Panthers LW Sean Bergenheim, who missed all of last season due to hip, groin and abdomen injuries, entered Tuesday with four goals in his past three games. ... Tuesday was the final game of the season series between the teams. The Rangers won the two previous meetings. ... Up next for the Panthers is a Saturday game against the Nashville Predators, ending Florida's five-game homestand. ... The Rangers travel to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins on Friday.