NEW YORK — Sloppy at the start, strong at the finish. That has been the New York Rangers' winning formula the past two games, yet they know they need to change the plan — and soon.
After a two-game post All-Star break skid, in which the Rangers scored a total of one goal, New York has regained its offensive mojo. The Rangers followed up Saturday's win over Carolina with a 6-3 victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday night.
In both games, the third period was their best. But if they start slowly when powerhouse Boston comes to town on Wednesday, the game could be out of reach by the time the final 20 minutes roll around.
"We are getting to that point in the season where we've got to be desperate for points," said Rick Nash, who scored two goals to reach 31 for the season and move back into a tie for the NHL lead. "Playing in the third, we didn't have as many turnovers as we did in the first two periods."
It is no coincidence that the Rangers' offense has rebounded the past two games when Nash has scored three goals. But they have spread it around, too. Mats Zuccarello scored his first goal in 11 games during New York's decisive three-goal third period.
"I can feel pressure from everyone around to score some goals, so obviously I'd like to score some more," he said.
Dan Boyle scored a deflected goal 8:10 into the third to make it 4-3, and Nash and Zuccarello added insurance tallies.
Boyle flipped the puck from the left point, and it hit the stick of veteran Florida defenseman Willie Mitchell and bounded past surprised goalie Roberto Luongo. Zuccarello made it 5-3 with 4:02 left.
Carl Hagelin was stopped by Luongo on a penalty shot with 3:19 remaining to keep it a two-goal game, but Nash scored into an empty net at 18:07.
The Panthers held a 1-0 lead in the first and dug out of a 3-1 hole in the second, yet fell to 1-6-1 in their past eight.
"Every game is must win for us," forward Nick Bjugstad said. "We can't afford any nights off.
"That was an unfortunate bounce."
Kevin Hayes and Marc Staal added goals for the Rangers, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 33 shots for his 334th victory, 20th best in NHL history.
Aleksander Barkov, Dave Bolland and Brandon Pirri had Panthers goals. Brad Boyes added two assists, and Luongo made 32 saves. The Panthers will finish their three-game trip to the New York area against the Islanders on Tuesday.
"We just can let games like this one get away against teams we are chasing," Bolland said. "We need momentum, and we had it tonight."
After Hayes and Staal gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead in the second, the play shifted back to the Panthers. Lundqvist briefly stemmed the tide when he denied Jonathan Huberdeau, who came in alone, but he couldn't hold off Florida for long.
Bolland cut the deficit to 3-2 with 7:09 left in the second after he put the puck off the crossbar. The rebound came back to him, and he batted it in for his second goal.
Then, during a power play, Bolland sent a hard pass from the goal line out front to Pirri, who dropped to a knee and fired in his seventh — and fourth in five games — with 4:30 remaining.
"Even though they came back and they tied it up in the second period, when the game was on the line in the third, I thought we played our best period," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
New York seemed to be in control after getting even on Nash's first-period goal and then grabbing a two-goal edge when Hayes and Staal scored 6:37 apart.
Hayes gave the Rangers their first lead at 2:51 of the second on the power play when Zuccarello sent a pass from the left circle to Hayes for a one-timer from the slot that produced his seventh goal. This one came as his older brother Jimmy — a Panthers forward — watched from the Florida bench.
Staal, who played against his brothers Eric and Jordan in New York's 4-1 win over Carolina, waited with the puck above the right circle and snapped a wrist shot past Luongo at 9:28 for his third.
Nash's first goal gave him his first 30-goal season with New York and eighth in 12 NHL seasons.
NOTES: RW Lee Stempniak was back in the Rangers lineup, replacing C J.T. Miller, who was scratched for the second time in three games. ... Nash is the first Rangers player to have 30 goals and four short-handed tallies in a season since 2000-01. ... The Panthers have no short-handed goals this season. The Rangers have six.
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