NEW YORK - Jaromir Jagr logged more ice time than any other Rangers forward Monday night. He still had enough energy to enjoy some postgame cheers from his new home crowd.
Jagr had a three-point night in his home debut for New York, setting up Brian Leetch’s tiebreaking score and adding a third-period goal and assist in a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.
“I’m glad it’s behind me,” said Jagr, who reveled in the cheers when he came back out for the encore awarded to the game’s first star. “We won, that’s all that matters. We needed that game.”
Jagr, acquired Friday from Washington, enjoyed this game much more than his first with the Rangers — a 9-1 drubbing in Ottawa on Saturday that he called embarrassing.
“Even if I’m 13 years in the league, something like that, first game in New York, I was a little bit nervous, a little bit scared,” Jagr said.
He was on a line centered by Eric Lindros, instead of Petr Nedved, who he was with Saturday. Jagr played just under 21 minutes in 24 shifts.
“He’s full of enthusiasm and he’d been like that the past two months,” coach Glen Sather said of Lindros. “It takes a little time to see how things work. It can change again, but I like the way that line looked.”
At least for a while, Jagr lifted the negative energy that filled Madison Square Garden. He brought fans out of their seats to cheer his first Rangers goal, 17th of the season, that made it 3-1 at 33 seconds of the third.
Jagr got to a rebound of Lindros’ shot and smoothly backhanded the puck in. He also assisted on Matthew Barnaby’s empty-net goal.
“He found a way to produce three goals in a tight game,” captain Mark Messier said. “That’s what great players do.”
Byron Ritchie pulled Florida within one 80 seconds after Jagr scored, but the Rangers held on to earn their eighth victory in 10 against the Panthers (8-1-1).
Nedved and Messier also scored for New York, which snapped a four-game losing streak and six-game winless streak (0-4-2) and moved two points ahead of Florida for 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
“They’re a desperate team, just like we are now,” Ritchie said. “This was a game we really wanted.”
New York’s disappointing standing and the anticipation of a seventh straight non-playoff season had fans booing before the first puck was dropped.
The Rangers scored three straight against Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, the All-Star who was coming off a 43-save effort Saturday in a victory at Boston. Luongo made 33 saves.
Jussi Markkanen rebounded from allowing six goals on 19 shots against Ottawa to make 38 saves in his second straight start for Rangers regular Mike Dunham, sidelined by a concussion.
“The guys really helped me out there,” Markkanen said. “It was great to play today.”
Kristian Huselius gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead 9:03 into the second, but Messier tied it with his 14th goal — off an assist by Leetch — 1:19 later.
Huselius’ goal was set up after Darcy Hordichuk landed a hard hit on Jagr in the Florida zone, separating him from the puck.
“It wasn’t easy for me,” Jagr said. “Then Mess tied it up and saved me a little right there.”
Jed Ortmeyer was instrumental in getting the Rangers even when he beat the Panthers down ice to negate an icing call and then found Messier in front with a nice pass.
Leetch made it 2-1 when he deftly moved around a defender and ripped a shot in, after the Rangers kept the pressure on 2:20 after a power play ended. Nedved made it 4-2 with 3:26 left.
Notes: Rangers C Jamie Lundmark played for the first time in 24 games since spraining two knee ligaments Dec. 4. ... One disgruntled Rangers fan wore a paper bag over his head. Many in the crowd started chants of “Fire Sather!” right after the opening faceoff. “Let’s Go Rangers!” cheers returned in the third. ... The Panthers, who didn’t have any power plays Saturday against Tampa Bay, weren’t awarded their first against the Rangers until 2:42 of the second period. ... Florida earned points in 21 of its previous 29 games.
PHT: A comeback win in Game 3 gave Ottawa hope, and the Senators seek a repeat result tonight to level the series.
PHT: After coming back home in an 0-2 hole, the Sharks are now even with the Kings after holding on to win Game 4 Tuesday night.
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