Jaroslav Halak impresses again for Rangers
SUNRISE, Fla. — Jaroslav Halak had his second consecutive impressive performance in nets, 15 days apart.
For the 37-year-old who had opened 1-6-1 in his first eight starts, won his second straight while turning aside 32 of 35 shots after making the difference in the empty double-net for Rangers 6-3 victory in Philadelphia on December 17.
Halak was especially important throughout the second period and early in the third when the Panthers made a few runs against the Rangers and crashed into the net several times.
Igor Shesterkin had played the past five straight years for the Blueshirts, who play at home Tuesday against Carolina before games in Montreal Thursday and New Jersey Saturday afternoon.
“He is part of our team. He’s a big part of our group,” head coach Gerard Gallant said when asked why he gave Halak the start. “He’s been really good.”
Jonny Brodzinski was left without a uniform on Sunday, with the fourth-line center serving as a healthy backup to welcome Alexis Lafrenière back into the lineup after his lone game in street clothes in Tampa on Thursday.
Brodzinski had played 11 straight games after sitting out the Dec. 3 game at the Garden against the Blackhawks the day he was recalled from the AHL’s Wolf Pack. The 29-year-old had two points (1-1) with odds of plus-3 at five against five (for five goals for and two against) while averaging 9:41 par ice time.
The No.76 is one of two Rangers centers with a winning points record; Brodzinski’s 53.3% (40 wins, 35 losses) is second only to Vincent Trocheck’s 56.3%.
Libor Hajek sat like a healthy scratch in defense for the eighth game in a row.
The Rangers have entered the game 0 for 8 on the power play in their last two games and 1 for 17 in their last four games.
The Panthers 16-17-6 entered the game having lost one less game in regulation under head coach Paul Maurice than they lost all of last year in winning the Presidents’ Trophy as as the best regular season team in the NHL at 58-18-6 under the combination of Joel Quenneville (7-0) and Andrew Brunette behind the bench.
Brunette, fired after Tampa Bay’s second-round sweep of Florida, works as the Devils’ associate coach to coach Lindy Ruff.
The Panthers started the day eight points out of a playoff berth while needing to pass four teams — Buffalo, Detroit, Rangers and Islanders — to secure a wildcard berth.
Since the end of World War II, there have only been five instances where a team has missed the playoffs a year after finishing with the NHL’s best regular season record.
The Bruins, who won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2013-14 but missed the playoffs the following season, remained the most recent club to earn the dubious accolade.