In the waning seconds of Friday's 4-1 loss to the visiting Rangers, Florida's Tomas Kopecky cold-cocked New York's Michael Del Zotto after taking a high stick from Del Zotto near the net with just over seven seconds left.
That set off a melee on the ice with Kopecky being tackled from behind by Brandon Prust before he ended up fighting Mike Rupp. Krys Barch also received a misconduct.
Kopecky is expected to be suspended for the game; Florida has six forwards on the injured list. The Rangers described the shot from Kopecky as a sucker punch.
“That's hockey. Some guy cross-checks you in the back and then follows through. He deserves a good smash in the face,'' Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said of Del Zotto. “He got what he deserved. Then guys who play five minutes a night, it's typical that they would go and try and grab our skill players. We'll see what the response is.''
Before the game, Rangers coach John Tortorella dismissed the notion his team may overlook the Panthers with the much-hyped Winter Classic at the Phillies' ballpark just around the corner.
Tortorella and the Rangers are off to Philadelphia feeling pretty good about things as the Panthers spotted New York a four-goal lead. The Rangers won five straight before losing 4-1 in Washington on Wednesday. If they were upset, well, they looked the part.
The Rangers, who beat the Panthers 6-1 at Madison Square Garden a few weeks back, kept their offensive attack going on Friday. New York chased starting goalie Scott Clemmensen to the bench by scoring three within the opening 16 minutes. Two of the goals, however, we're deflected before getting past Clemmensen.
“We weren't sharp early on and spotted them four,'' Stephen Weiss said. “We pushed back in the second and third, but with that goalie and their defense, it's tough to climb back into it.''
Jose Theodore, who starts Saturday, gave up the Rangers' fourth goal 7:41 in the second before Florida got on the board as Matt Bradley backhanded a shot from 20 feet shot that found a home in the top corner of the cage. Bradley had a chance for Florida's second goal with 11:45 left in the third but hit the post.
“Against a team like that, they go down four goals and it's almost impossible to come back,'' Bradley said. “There's no excuse for the way we started that game. It was embarrassing to do that, especially after what happened to them last time.''
Theodore got in a little work before facing the rested -- although reeling -- Canadiens in the annual New Year's Eve meeting between the two. Theodore only faced 11 shots.
With Florida's lead in the Southeast Division down to four points on second place Winnipeg, the Panthers sure would like to go into 2012 with a win. Especially with the first game of the new year coming Jan. 5 against the Rangers at the Garden.
“We have to be better than we were [Friday],'' Dineen said. “We didn't start well and when the desperation got down we started to control the play. But we started much too late.''
() With Weiss back in the lineup after missing two games with sore ribs, Evgenii Dadonov was returned to AHL San Antonio for the third time this season.
() Assistant general manager Mike Santos said Madden has left South Florida after being checked out by the team's medical and training staff on Thursday. Florida, Santos said, is still weighing its options regarding potential trades or signing Madden. The Panthers still have six forwards on the injured list.
SATURDAY: CANADIENS AT PANTHERS
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Tied 31-31-6
Scouting report: Montreal limps into South Florida as the Canadiens have lost five of six under interim coach Randy Cunneyworth – who was once head coach of the Panthers' former AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. The Habs had lost three of five before firing Jacques Martin. Saturday's game is sold out and will be part of Hockey Night in Canada's New Year's coverage. The Panthers won the previous meeting 2-1 in Montreal on Oct. 24.