Sunday’s New York Rangers game against the Florida Panthers was considered a “trap game.” The Panthers came in with a 3-10-4 record and were playing their second game in as many nights. It was also their second game under new head coach Peter Horachek. While the Rangers barely avoided falling into the trap with a 4-3 win, it did offer a lesson in humility for this long season.
The Rangers gave the Panthers far too many scoring chances, and probably should have allowed more than three goals. The Rangers played sloppily and lifeless through long stretches of the second period and the latter half of the third. The Rangers failed to capitalize on several chances against Panthers goaltender Tim Thomas, including Brad Richards tipping Carl Hagelin’s brilliant feed left of a wide-open net. The Panthers registered 27 shots on goal, but it felt like much more than that. Henrik Lundqvist was required to make some spectacular saves all night, and essentially carried the team through the first half of the second period.
Luckily for the Rangers, they capitalized on chances when they needed to. Richards finally put the puck in the net early in the third, and Mats Zuccarello scored on a 5-on-3 for what turned out to be the winning goal. However, the Rangers made what should have been an easy win much more difficult than necessary. This is not to suggest the effort wasn’t there. The team — except for the aforementioned periods of poor play in the second and third — battled hard throughout. Part of it may have been desperation on the Panthers. But tonight’s game served as a reminder to the Rangers that no win comes easy in the NHL.
The Rangers will have games like this again in which a lesser opponent gives them fits. The lesson this game should teach them is that they can’t take any team, regardless of record, for granted. The Rangers’ sixth win in their last seven games was their most humbling.