Rangers Post Six, Breeze Past Division-leading Panthers

Two weeks after the Florida Panthers‘ speed stymied the game against the Rangers in a 2-1 victory, the Blueshirts were the team with the relentless attack, and were no match for the Panthers in a 6-1 victory Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

Derek Stepan finished with two goals, including a highlight-reel tally, as part of a four-goal explosion in the second period to put the game out of reach for the Panthers early. Brad Richards and Artem Anisimov had powerplay goals in the second, and Marian Gaborik and Steve Emminger scored between Stepan’s second. Henrik Lundqvist finished with 20 saves.

“The way we tried to approach the game is that you don’t do too much thinking,” said head coach John Tortorella. “It’s not a lot of information and leading. It’s really just trying to play with energy. That’s the biggest point we try to make and try to play simple. We ended up getting some fortunate rebounds and scored some goals. I thought our penalty killing was really good. In a 6-1 game, I thought everyone contributed and just played.”

The Rangers’ special-teams have been clicking recently, as the once anemic unit with the man advantage is showing life, scoring two goals with the extra man tonight. In addition, Stepan’s first goal of the night came just one second after the Rangers killed a penalty.

Although he finished with just one assist, Michael Del Zotto continued his strong play this season. The 21-year-old finished with a plus-4 rating, and is now a plus-15 for the season.

“I think we raised the bar this year.” Lundqvist said. “We’re not satisfied with just playing OK and getting a point here and there. So many players in the room now are challenging each other to be better and we have four pretty good lines out there. It helps to have good players and guys that have been here a couple of years so they know what to expect from the coaching staff and each other.”

Even Erik Christensen chipped into the offense. After being a healthy-scratch for eight straight, Christensen was inserted into the lineup for Sean Avery, and added an assist on Anisimov’s first period goal.

Richards, who continues to shine in his first season on Broadway, left the game in the third period after taking a puck to the face, which resulted in stitches. He returned for the final two minutes, and was OK after the game.

“We’re scoring and winning,” Richards said. “I like playing wherever. It’s been good and we’ve created some opportunities to score. We’ve been opportunistic. I guess that’s the main thing. I think we’ve sustained pressure and been good that way.”

With the win, the Rangers leap-frogged the Pittsburgh Penguins for fourth in the Eastern Conference with 38 points in just 27 games. They are one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the Conference lead, with one game in hand.

Florida’s Erik Gudbranson scored his first goal in the NHL in the first period, trimming the Rangers’ 2-0 lead to one.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattCalamia

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