Zibanejad, Shesterkin lead Rangers past Panthers 6-2

Adam Fox of the New York Rangers scores a first period goal against Alex Lyon of the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on January 23, 2023 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Panthers 6-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) (BRUCE BENNETT, 2023 Getty Images)

NEW YORK – Mika Zibanejad scored twice and Igor Shesterkin stopped 33 shots as the New York Rangers beat the Florida Panthers 6-2 on Monday night.

Adam Fox had a goal and two assists, and Jimmy Vesey, Alexis Lafreniere and Filip Chytil also scored for the Rangers, who are 15-4-2 since Dec. 5 and 5-0-1 in their last six home games against Florida. Artemi Panarin had three assists.

Shesterkin had seven saves in the first, 14 in the second and 12 in the third to improve to 11-4-3 in his last 18 starts and 21-8-6 overall this season.

“We played a smart game,″ Shesterkin said. “And we scored on our opportunities.”

The 27-year-old Russian just missed scoring when the Panthers pulled goaltender Alex Lyon with more than five minutes left, down by three goals. Sheskterin’s full-rink attempt missed wide left by mere inches.

“From our angle on the bench, I thought it was in,″ Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said.

Shesterkin said he would keep trying when the opportunity presents itself.

“Maybe next time,″ he said.

Carter Verhaeghe and Aleksander Barkov scored for the Panthers, who had won four of their previous five and are 7-3-1 since Jan. 1, when the Rangers won the previous meeting 5-3 in Florida.

Fox opened the scoring with his 10th goal at 3:03 of the first, bursting past the Panthers’ defense before sliding the puck past Lyon. Fox has points in 32 of New York’s 47 games this season. With his pair of assists, Fox tied Brian Leetch for the most assists (177) within a player’s first four seasons with the Rangers.

Verhaeghe tied it on the power play at 5:56 with his 23rd, giving the Panthers goals with the man advantage for the fourth-straight game and seven of the last eight.

Zibanejad put the Rangers ahead with 2:39 left in the first on the power play, one-timing a pass from Panarin past Lyon from his patented spot in the left circle. Fox had an assist on the play, giving him a multi-point effort for the third time in six games.

Vesey made it 3-1 at 15:03 of the second with his eighth.

Lafreniere then scored for the first time in 18 games at 7:56 of the third before Zibanejad scored again — his team-leading 22nd — at 8:10 to make it 5-1. Zibanejad’s first goal of the night was the 250th of his career.

“It’s obviously fun. I try not to analyze my career when I’m still in it and hopefully have a few more good years left,’’ the 29-year-old Zibanejad said.

Lafreniere was heartened by his goal, his sixth of the season and first since Dec. 7.

“We’re trying to get better and gain confidence,’’ the 21-year-old Lafreniere said about his youthful line which includes Kaapo Kakko, also 21, and Chytil, 23. “We’re all kind of the same age and its fun.”

Barkov pulled the Panthers within three at 11:02 of the third with his 13th before Chytil completed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 3:11 remaining.

“We just didn’t generate enough chances to win,’’ Barkov said. “It’s not going to go our way every time. We have to forget about this one and move forward.”

Panarin, who leads the Rangers with 50 points, extended his points streak against the Panthers to 12 games. It was the 28th time in his career Panarin had a three-assist game.

STAAL RETURNS

Former Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, 36, played his first game with the Panthers at Madison Square Garden after two seasons with Detroit. Staal, who was traded to the Red Wings in September 2020, played 892 games over 13 seasons in New York and skated in the second-most playoff games (107) in Rangers history.

UP NEXT

Panthers: At Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

Rangers: At Toronto on Wednesday night.

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