NEW YORK (AP) — Cam Talbot has certainly stunned a few people with his outstanding play in place of star goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Not his New York Rangers teammates.
“It didn’t surprise anybody in here,” Marc Staal said after Talbot made 38 saves and the streaking Rangers beat the Florida Panthers 2-1 on Sunday for their 14th victory in 17 games.
“We’re excited for him to get an opportunity to show what he’s got on a consistent basis. He’s been very good for us as a backup. It’s his time to shine.”
Lundqvist has been out since Feb. 2 with a strained blood vessel in his neck, yet New York (44-17-7) has an NHL-best 95 points and has earned at least one point in 17 of 18 games. James Sheppard and Matt Hunwick each scored his first goal for the Rangers.
The Panthers, who began the day six points out of a playoff spot, lost in regulation for the first time in five games. Brandon Pirri scored his 15th goal, and Dan Ellis made 32 saves.
“You only get rewarded for wins,” Panthers captain Willie Mitchell said. “It’s just two points at this time of year.”
New York led 1-0 after a disjointed first period due to Sheppard’s sixth goal of the season — his first with the Rangers — and Talbot’s diving save on Jussi Jokinen with 49.6 seconds left.
Sheppard, a late addition to the lineup, was acquired from San Jose for a fourth-round draft pick in 2016 on March 1, the day before the trade deadline.
“(The goal) was out of the blue,” Sheppard said. “Guys are scoring, guys are playing hard, guys are blocking shots. It’s really fun to come to a team (where each player) does that for the guy sitting next to him.”
Talbot stopped 20 shots in the second. His most difficult save came on Mitchell’s behind-the-net bank attempt with 6 minutes left that Talbot pinned against his legs and glove.
The goalie also benefited from a bit of good fortune when Aaron Ekblad’s wrist shot hit the crossbar with the Panthers trailing 1-0 with 1:57 remaining in the period.
“Sometimes you hit a hot goalie, (and Talbot’s) hot,” Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr said. “What else (is there) to say? We didn’t score.”
New York’s lead grew to 2-0 when Hunwick’s point drive eluded Ellis 8:37 into the third. Just like Sheppard’s goal, it was Hunwick’s first with the Rangers.
Pirri’s goal with 9:49 left spoiled Talbot’s shutout bid.
Florida outshot New York 39-34 but went 0 for 3 on the power play. New York was 0 for 2 with the man advantage.
“We played the best team in the league and nobody (has) played them like that,” Jagr said. “It’s not over. We have 13, 14 games left. … We have to win 11, 12 of the remaining games.”
NOTES: Before the game, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault announced Sheppard would replace Tanner Glass in the lineup. According to Vigneault, Glass was experiencing “upper-body soreness.” … New York D Kevin Klein missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury. … Vigneault did not have an update on Lundqvist, injured when he was struck in the throat by a shot off the stick of Carolina forward Brad Malone in New York’s 4-1 win on Jan. 31. … Florida coach Gerald Gallant did not provide a timetable for the return of top goalie Roberto Luongo, who has missed four games with an upper-body injury. “He’s getting better, but day to day. Skated (Sunday morning), so it’s getting closer,” Gallant said. “Obviously when (Luongo) is ready, he wants to play. But (right now he’s) just not ready.” … Along with Luongo, Al Montoya, Alex Petrovic, Tomas Kopecky and Alex Petrovic missed the game for the Panthers. … During a pregame ceremony, the Rangers honored defenseman Dan Boyle for playing in 1,000 NHL games.
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