NEW YORK (AP) — After Derek Stepan and the New York Rangers put on one of their most impressive offensive displays of the season, all they could do was tout their defense, grit and hustle.
Stepan scored twice, including a pretty coast-to-coast goal just after the Rangers killed a penalty, and New York beat the Florida Panthers 6-1 on Sunday night for as comprehensive-looking a win as New York has enjoyed all season. It came a night after the Rangers won in Buffalo, too.
Both teams actually played three games in four nights, though the Panthers had Saturday night off. Not that it showed.
“They looked a little tired,” New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “We looked really fast.”
Stepan also assisted on Marian Gaborik’s goal late in the second period that made it 5-1 and seemed to take what spring remained out of the Panthers. New York looked nothing like a team playing for the second night in a row, putting away the Panthers for its fourth win in six games and giving the Rangers nine out of 10 possible points in December.
“I think our defense is a big part of our offense,” Stepan said. “I think the big thing is we have the puck more and we’re able to make plays.”
Brad Richards, Artem Anisimov and former Panthers defenseman Steve Eminger also scored for New York. Erik Gudbranson scored for Florida, which has lost two in a row following a three-game winning streak.
“Their want was higher than ours tonight,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “That was a good, old-fashioned tail-kicking right there. But that’s hockey. You give some and you take some.”
Florida went down 2-0 early after Richards and Anisimov scored power-play goals, but the Panthers replied 30 seconds after Anisimov shoveled home Erik Christensen’s rebound off the post. Gudbranson scored on a slap shot from just inside the blue line with 1:53 left in the first.
Stepan’s first goal came 5:45 after the first intermission. He darted down the right side and fired a wrist shot past Jose Theodore that made it 3-1 just after the Panthers failed to tie it while New York enforcer Brandon Prust was off for high-sticking.
On the faceoff after Eminger made it 4-1, Florida’s Krystofer Barch squared off with Prust. Barch got in a good shot early, helped Prust keep his feet three times as they traded blows, then Prust went down on top of him next to the boards and both were sent to the box.
The Rangers soon followed with two more goals, getting their fifth when Gaborik reached over to knock home a short rebound and their sixth when Stepan buried a long rebound with 2:12 left in the period. Florida coach Kevin Dineen didn’t bother sending backup Scott Clemmensen in until the third period started. Theodore finished with 16 saves on 22 shots.
Christensen mostly had a quiet night after being put in the lineup in favor of the popular Sean Avery, though his assist easily could have gone down as a missed opportunity. All alone and close in during a first-period power play, Christensen beat Theodore, but the puck bounced off the post straight to Anisimov, who shoveled it in for his sixth goal of the season.
Lundqvist stopped 20 of 21 shots a night after Martin Biron started for the Rangers in a 4-1 victory in Buffalo. Lundqvist rarely was seriously tested. Not the way the Rangers hustled on defense and special teams all night, despite leaden legs. The Panthers came up dry on all seven of their power-play chances.
“It was just one of those games. Some of their goals were bounces, some were mistakes. It just seemed like we were not all on the same page,” Gudbranson said. “Glad I was able to score, and it was a big goal at the time, but really, all that matters tonight is how we played overall, and how we respond to it. What happened, happened, it’s on us now to make something good out of it. This is about us, as a team, and how we react to it.