It's hard to remember a worse effort by one of the league's most surprising positive stories this year.
The Panthers did little right Sunday and the Rangers pounced, rolling to a 6-1 win at Madison Square Garden. Florida heads home as Sunday's game was the sixth in the Panthers' past seven that was away from Sunrise.
Florida has seven of its next nine at home. Of these seven road games, the Panthers went 3-3-1.
“Any time you get a tail kicking like that, you say things like 'the will to compete','' coach Kevin Dineen said. “It was obvious their will was greater than ours. When we play well, we travel as a unit. We were really spread out, very individualistic. We didn't play as a group. That's an old fashioned tail kicking for sure.''
Despite the loss, Florida goes home after playing arguably its hardest stretch of games more than just surviving as it continues to lead the Southeast Division by six points. The Panthers 10 road wins is tied for most in the league. Florida's 18 road games is also tied for a league-high.
Sunday's rout sure didn't start out that way as the Panthers went into the first break still in the game. The Rangers led 2-0 in the opening period off goals by Brad Richards and Artem Anisimov, but 40 seconds after the second goal, rookie Erik Gudbranson got his first NHL goal by whipping a shot from the blue line.
“It's nice to score, but I'm pretty sure it's completely overshadowed,'' Gudbranson said. “You can't win every game and this was a tough one. It was one of those nights.''
The Panthers hoped the Rangers were a little tired after Saturday's win in Buffalo, yet should have known better. New York is now 4-0-1 in the second game of a back-to-back set this season (3-0 at MSG) and a very impressive 24-8-3 in such situations over the past three seasons.
Florida gave the Rangers what they wanted early as New York drew three penalties in the opening period – scoring on two of them. By contrast, the Panthers went 0-for-7 on the power play – their worst showing since a 3-2 loss to the Flyers last month.
“We didn't allow ourselves to hang in with the game,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said. “They came out hard and we weren't prepared from the get-go. We took three penalties. We can't do that. We haven't played like that all season.''
Things soured for Florida in the second. Derek Stepan stole the puck in the Florida zone on one power play chance and weaved through the defense. Stepan's shot beat Jose Theodore with one second left on Florida's advantage for the shorthanded marker.
Theodore, who hadn't surrendered more than three goals in a game since giving up four against the Lightning on Oct. 17, was pulled after giving up six in the opening two periods. The Rangers got their fifth and sixth goals a minute apart late in the second.
Dineen said he thought about pulling Theodore earlier, but let him play the first two periods. Scott Clemmensen started the third.
The last time Theodore gave up six goals in a game was in a 7-4 loss to the Panthers at BankAtlantic Center on April 11, 2009.
AROUND THE ICE
Matt Bradley returned to the lineup for the first time since being hurt Nov. 15 in Dallas. It was thought newcomer Krys Barch would be the healthy scratch, but instead, Dineen decided to bench Mike Santorelli.
“I'm not a message sender,'' Dineen said. “He's going to get his opportunity somewhere down the line. He has to be better to go. It's a whole snapshot of his recent play.''
Santorelli said “obviously I have to play better,'' before declining to comment further.
() General manager Dale Tallon met the team in New York after a bout with kidney stones on Thursday morning. Tallon visited Mass General in Boston on Thursday and didn't travel with the team to Buffalo.
Tallon said he's dealt with the problem for years and has even had surgery a few times. “It's awful,'' he said while shaking his head.