PANTHERS (16-15-7) at RANGERS (17-16-3)
Last 10 -- Florida 5-2-3; New York 4-4-2
Season series -- This is the third of four meetings, with the team splitting the first two contests. The Panthers won 3-2 in New York on Nov. 21, while the Rangers got even with a 2-1 shootout win at the Bank Atlantic Center four nights later.
Big story -- It's a battle of teams dangling around the playoff cutoff in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers are currently in eighth place with 39 points, while the Rangers are tied for ninth with 37. The Rangers have two games in hand on the Panthers.
Panthers -- The Panthers are surging of late, having won four of five games, including Monday's 4-1 victory at Philadelphia. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun was in net for all four of the victories and was on the bench getting a night off in the one loss.
Also stepping up their play are Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton, assuming the roles of offensive leaders. Weiss has points in seven straight games and Horton 6 goals and 18 points in his last 15 games
"They're taking their game to another level," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "They have to. They're the go-to guys here now."
Rangers -- When the Rangers lost at home to the Islanders last Wednesday, coach John Tortorella aired out his players. It seems to have done the trick. The team has won three straight since that loss, all on the road. Now they return home looking to keep the momentum going.
"We're just trying to gain some confidence, and (be) as consistent as you can be, and you find a way to win some hockey games, you start feeling better about yourself," Tortorella said after Monday's 3-1 win at Carolina. "We just need to stay within ourselves and try to play a simple game. When we're on the road, we think that ... It's just a matter of simplifying everything and just competing on pucks."
Who's hot -- Besides Vokoun, Horton and Weiss, right wing Radek Dvorak has 3 goals and 2 assists in his last 5 games.
For the Rangers -- and you're not going to believe this -- Marian Gaborik is sizzling. He has 4 goals and 4 assists in his last 6 games. In an effort to give someone else on the team credit, let's mention that Brandon Dubinsky had a goal and an assist in Monday's win at Carolina, his first multi-point game since returning from injury on Dec. 14.
Injury report -- While the Rangers are as healthy as they've been all season, the Panthers are still without left wings David Booth and Cory Stillman. Center Kamil Kreps is questionable.
Stat pack -- The Rangers, winless at home since Nov. 23, have dropped the last three meetings with the Panthers in New York. They've lost five in a row at home overall, and they haven't dropped six straight at MadisonSquareGarden in a single season since a seven-game skid from March 24-April 14, 1993. ... Vokoun is 3-0-1 with a 1.44 goals-against average in his last four games against New York
Puck drop -- "We went through such a tough stretch there -- it takes a little while to dig out of a hole," Dubinsky said after his team's third road win in five days. "Three wins in a row, and we're starting to turn things around and pick up our game."
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