Pete DeBoer knows with the Panthers being out of the playoff hunt, he should be looking to the future and letting some of his younger players get big minutes so they can be properly evaluated.
The problem is he loves winning too much – and hates losing even more.
“I got a good night sleep after that win in Boston,'' he said Saturday morning. “It was the first one in a long time. That's my motivation.''
The thought here is DeBoer didn't sleep very well Saturday night, not after the Panthers gave up four goals in the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in Sunrise.
The loss was Florida's eighth in 11 games and officially eliminated them from postseason contention for an NHL record tying ninth season and record setting 10th year.
“It's obviously not something you look forward to at the start of the year, but you have to play consistent hockey to make the playoffs and we didn't do that,'' said captain Bryan McCabe.
“We were up and down all year. You don't get into those slides where you lose five or six in a row – and we did that three or four time this year. We don't deserve it.''
After a first period that had to have fans at home watching Butler basketball instead, the Panthers got things going in the second and took a 1-0 lead when Keith Ballard kept his scoring touch going by freezing Henrik Lundqvist before blasting a shot from the left circle. Ballard has three goals in four games and tied his career high (eight) in goals in a season.
Scott Clemmensen, fresh off a 1-0 shutout win in Boston, was solid as he held the playoff hopeful Rangers at bay. But Clemmensen didn't get much help in the third period as the Blueshirts – with legend Mark Messier watching from the pressbox – tied it 18 seconds into the third on a shot from Marc Staal. The puck appeared to bounce off McCabe's stick.
“That's exactly what they needed to get back into the game,'' said DeBoer. “Momentum shifted and we never got it back. But, again, we got one goal tonight and it came from a defenseman.''
The Rangers added three more in the third, with two coming within a two minute span as Brandon Prust scored on a backhanded shovel shot from in front of the net at 9:37 for the lead. A few moments later, Stephen Weiss was robbed of the puck at center ice and the Rangers turned that into a Chris Drury goal at 11:06.
And that was that – save for an empty net goal with a minute left.
Florida dropped to 21-3-6 when leading after two periods as the Rangers won for the first time this season when trailing going into the third. New York is now 1-24-2 in such situations.
“One goal isn't enough,'' said Ballard, who has both of Florida's goals in the past two games. “We put ourselves in this position.''
Defenseman Bryan Allen injured his ribs during Thursday's win in Boston and although nothing is fractured, DeBoer says the pain is intense enough that Allen not only missed Saturday's game but is doubtful for the final week of games as well.
“This is a guy who has a pretty high pain tolerance,'' said DeBoer. “If he's in pain, it's real pain.''
With Allen out, the Panthers recalled Clay Wilson from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Florida also sent back enforcer Steve MacIntyre and called up Mike Duco.
Wilson had played in 14 NHL games with Columbus and Atlanta but made his Panthers debut on Saturday. Duco made his NHL debut with the Panthers on Dec. 2 and was sent back to Rochester after nine games. Wilson was a second-team All-AHL selection this season.
“I didn't know much about Duco before training camp, but he's been impressive,'' said center Jeff Taffe, who played with both players in Rochester. “Clay is a very offensive defenseman who sees the ice very well and plays a ton of minutes in the AHL. It's nice for him to be rewarded. He's a point getter. I hope that transitions into the NHL.''
-- Winger Rostislav Olesz was back after missing two games with a hand injury. DeBoer said Gregory Campbell (foot) is expected back Tuesday against Ottawa. Byron Bitz (elbow) skated on Saturday morning, but his return has not been determined. Victor Oreskovich (lower body) also missed Saturday's game.
-- Bryan McCabe was named the team's defensive player of the month for March. Former goalie John Vanbiesbrouck presented McCabe with his award.
-- With Wilson in the lineup, Florida played with three defensemen who have played a large chunk of the season in Rochester as well as 19-year-old rookie Dmitry Kulikov.