A long bounced shot, combined with a fortunate deflection by Florida Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell, helped rescue the Rangers from what would have been a damaging home loss Monday night.
After the Blueshirts coughed up a two-goal advantage late in the second period, defenseman Dan Boyle flipped a harmless shot toward the Panthers' net from above the left circle.
But it glanced off the stick of Mitchell, and past Roberto Luongo at 8:10 of the third period.
"I was originally going to pass, but it didn't feel right, so it was a split-second decision," Boyle said. "I got lucky. It's just the law of averages."
That opened the gates. Mats Zuccarello scored his first goal in 10 games with 4:02 left, and Rick Nash took the league lead with his second goal, an empty-netter, for his 31st of the year -- tied with Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead -- to cap a 6-3 win.
"We stuck with it all game. It was a big game for us," Nash said. "It's the point of the season where you've got to be desperate for points and in the third period, we didn't have as many turnovers as we did in the first two."
The victory, far from easy, brought the Rangers to 62 points, just two behind the second-place Penguins (with two games in hand) in the Metropolitan Division, three behind the first-place Islanders (with a game in hand) and two points ahead of the fourth-place Capitals (with two games in hand.)
In the third game of this four-game homestand, during which the Blueshirts are 2-1, Henrik Lundqvist, who recovered from the deflected shot that caught him in the throat against the Hurricanes, started for the 15th time in the last 17 games and made 33 saves. He is 5-1-0 in his last six games against Florida at MSG.
The Rangers had built the lead by scoring shorthanded, on the power play and at even strength and almost on a penalty shot, but Carl Hagelin was stopped by Luongo on a penalty shot with 3:19 left.
Nash scored his 30th goal to wake up the foggy Rangers in the first period and Kevin Hayes added a power-play goal early in the second. At 9:28 of the second, Jesper Fast, with another solid game, found Marc Staal cross-ice in the right circle and the defenseman fired high glove side for a 3-1 lead.
But it turned sour quickly.
When Sean Bergenheim whipped a pass from the right boards in front, the puck ricocheted off Staal's skate, hit the crossbar and Dave Bolland batted it in at 12:51. At 15:04, Dan Girardi committed his second tripping penalty, and 26 seconds later, Brandon Pirri buried a pass to tie the game at 3.
As if they had a collective Super Bowl party hangover, the Rangers were sleepwalking through the first six minutes, with the Panthers outshooting them 8-1 and leading on a goal by Aleksander Barkov on a behind the net feed from Brad Boyes at 4:09. On Girardi's first penalty, Nash struck shorthanded a minute later.
He stole the puck in midice, blew past rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad, deked Luongo with his backhand, and went forehand for his fourth shorthanded score of the season at 8:49. It's the first time he's scored 30 since the 2011-12 season, when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
With Alex Petrovic in the box for hooking Zuccarello at 1:52 of the second period, Ryan McDonagh kept in a clearing attempt at the blue line, found Zuccarello, who fed Hayes for a one-timer past Luongo from the slot.
"We didn't play that well as a team tonight, Zuccarello said. "But we got a win."