Rangers miss opportunity to clinch playoff berth in loss to Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. - On a night in which the New York Rangers got significantly closer to their third straight playoff berth, there was nothing but frustration on their side.

Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers, long ago out of the playoff race, showed some grit in snapping a six-game losing streak in which they had been outscored 30-8.

The Rangers, who could have clinched an Eastern Conference playoff berth with a win, were upset by the last-place Panthers, losing 3-2 Tuesday night at the BB&T Center.

Florida forward Tomas Fleischmann scored in the second period, Marcel Goc got the game-winning power-play goal in the third, and goalie Jacob Markstrom stifled what had been a red-hot Rangers offense to earn the win.

"We knew what was at stake for them," Markstrom said. "We could have either laid down or tried to win. We played hard."

A key for the Panthers came with 3:12 left in the game, when Jonathan Huberdeau was penalized two minutes for tripping. The Panthers not only killed the penalty but also got an empty-net, short-handed goal by rookie Drew Shore.

The Rangers' Derick Brassard scored with 33 seconds left for the final tally.

"We knew we had to win the special-teams battle," Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. "When we got the lead, they were pressing us pretty good. We did a good job of holding them off."

Despite the loss, it was a productive night for the Rangers because ninth-place Winnipeg Jets lost 5-3 Tuesday night to the Washington Capitals. Winnipeg trails New York and Ottawa by one point in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Only two of those three teams will make the playoffs.

The Rangers, who have two games left -- at Carolina and home against New Jersey -- need a total of just two points to clinch a playoff spot for the third straight year. A Jets loss in regulation at home against the Montreal Canadiens would also do the trick.

Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, though, said the Jets' loss was not his focus.

"It's all about us," he said. "We're not looking around us. We have to take care of our business. Tonight we let two (points) slip away."

The Rangers were unable to do much against rookie Markstrom and three rookie defensemen: Alex Petrovic, Colby Robak and T.J. Brennan. Petrovic last week became the eighth Panthers player to make his NHL debut this season.

Markstrom made 36 saves against the Rangers, who outshot the Panthers 38-16. Markstrom outdueled New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who made 13 saves.

Lundqvist had allowed two goals or fewer in 14 of his past 17 games entering Tuesday. Among goalies with at least 30 games, he was third in the NHL in goals-against average (2.08) and save percentage (.927).

Yet he seemed to be lulled to sleep by the Panthers, who mustered only two shots in the first period, six in the second seven in the third.

"It's pretty tough," Lundqvist said of the inactivity, "but you try to stay focused."

The Panthers, who ended New York's three-game winning streak, welcomed back two forwards to their offense: Peter Mueller, who hadn't played since his wife had a baby boy last Wednesday, and Tomas Kopecky, who was injured and missed his first game of the season Sunday against the Boston Bruins.

Yet it was two defensemen -- Filip Kuba and Mike Weaver -- who initiated the offense, getting assists on Fleischmann's goal, a wrist shot from the left circle with 5:04 elapsed in the second period.

The Rangers got the equalizer with 2:35 elapsed in the third period on a rebound goal by Taylor Pyatt, his sixth score of the season.

After going 27 games without a goal, Pyatt has now scored in two straight games.

Taking advantage of a Brad Richards tripping penalthy, Goc got his tip-in power-play goal with 7:37 elapsed in the third period. Fleischmann and Campbell earned the assists.

Rangers coach Tortorella was most bothered by his penalty-killing unit.

"Not getting the puck out when you're killing a penalty - that's how they scored their second goal," the coach said. "It's killed us all year with our penalty-killing. We had two separate tries to get it out.

"Forget about what happened prior. It's 1-1. We're in full control of the game. I don't think we should take a penalty there. Then we don't get the puck when we're killing the penalty - twice. End of story."

NOTES: Rangers forward Brian Boyle (knee injury) missed his fourth straight game. He made the trip but hasn't practiced since the injury. Also out but practicing and perhaps nearing a return are forward Derek Dorsett (collarbone) and defenseman Mark Staal (eye). ... The Panthers were without three defensemen Tuesday: Erik Gudbranson (hand), Tyler Strachan (upper body) Dmitry Kulikov (upper body). ... The Rangers are No. 1 in the NHL in fewest penalty minutes allowed. ... Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, hired on May 17, 2010, has already seen five of his Florida draft picks reach the NHL. Included in that list are all three of his 2010 first-round picks (Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Quinton Howden) and his lone 2011 first-rounder (Jonathan Huberdeau). Making his debut last week at the Rangers was 2010 second-round defenseman Petrovic. Defenseman Mike Matheson, the team's first-rounder in 2012, played this past season at Boston College. ... The Panthers recalled defenseman Robak, 22, from the minors in time for Tuesday's game. ... The Panthers' season ends with a home game Thursday against Toronto and a trip to Tampa Bay on Saturday.