NEW YORK -- During the Florida Panthers' opening two months of hockey, as injuries dinged the forward lines and the defense bent and the losses stacked, the elusive became obvious. The Panthers couldn't string together wins as bouts of inconsistency hounded the team. They sunk down the Eastern Conference standings.
With Tuesday night's 5-4 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Florida took another step in burying a slow start. The win was the Panthers' second in a row and third in the last four games, the exception being Saturday night's loss in Chicago.
Denis Malgin scored the game-winner for Florida with 1:09 left in the third period, thwarting a furious Rangers rally that tied the game at 4.
Entering Tuesday's game, seven times had the Panthers entered a game with a chance to turn a win into consecutive ones. Four times they lost. They didn't have a three-game winning streak but suffered through losing streaks on three and five games.
With Monday's dominant game in New Jersey and Tuesday's squeaker in New York, Florida inched its way closer to a third win a row.
The Panthers roared to a 3-0 lead in an unusual first period that featured a looping goal from Aleksander Barkov, a tally from Florida enforcer Micheal Haley and the removal of Rangers star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. It was the first time the Panthers held a three-goal lead since they thrashed Anaheim on Oct. 26. They hadn't had a 3-0 lead since a victory in Washington on Oct. 21.
The Rangers were already without leading scorer Mika Zibanejad and captain defenseman Ryan McDonagh due to injury. With Lundqvist yanked after just 16:47, the Rangers were now without their top forward, defenseman and goalie because of either health or performance.
Unlike Monday's game against the Devils, the Panthers didn't control the pace of the first period. The Rangers fired twice as many shots on goal (10-5) and forced James Reimer to make spectacular save after spectacular save.
But Florida led on the scoreboard.
Barkov opened the scoring with a deft tip on a deflected puck in front of Lundqvist. The puck floated in the air momentarily before Barkov gently lifted it above Lundqvist and into the net. It was the second straight game Barkov scored in after going goalless for five consecutive games. Monday's was shorthanded. Tuesday's was on the power play.