Season series: This is the final of four regular-season meetings between these clubs. The Rangers hold the advantage with a 2-1-0 head-to-head record this season.
Big Story: Fresh off their exciting 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Monday's Winter Classic, the Rangers try to remain hot as they face the Panthers for the second time in less than a week. New York is 7-1-0 in its last eight games and looks to extend its home winning streak to four games. The Panthers seek to avenge a 4-1 home defeat the last time they faced the Rangers on Dec. 30.
Panthers: Save for their amazing run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, there hasn't been much to get excited about in Southern Florida over the 17 seasons the Panthers have been in the NHL. But it appears as if rookie coach Kevin Dineen has Florida poised for a run at the first division title in franchise history, as its 47 points is good for a three-point cushion over the Southeast Division's second-place Washington Capitals.
While the current Cats roster is relatively young, they did get some much-needed veteran leadership on Wednesday when general manager Dale Tallon announced a one-year contract for three-time Stanley Cup champion forward John Madden.
"John is a veteran player who brings to our team a wealth of playing experience having won two Stanley Cups with New Jersey and one with Chicago," Tallon told floridapanthers.com at Wednesday's press conference. "He is a hard-working and responsible forward who plays well at both ends of the ice and is excellent on faceoffs."
Rangers: With the season finale of HBO's "24/7: Flyers-Rangers Road to the Winter Classic" set for Thursday, the viewing public has gotten a great glimpse into what it takes to be one of the best teams in the League. But now that the behind-the-scenes cameras have stopped rolling, the Rangers should continue putting on one of the greatest shows on ice.
If New York can get a similar effort to what it displayed at the Winter Classic, then the Panthers will have a very formidable foe Thursday. The Blueshirts played a physical affair, highlighted with gritty defensive work and superb goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, including a penalty-shot save on Danny Briere with just under 20 seconds left in regulation.
"The whole game was exciting," Lundqvist told MSG Network after the game. "The end was pretty intense, but it was great. I just tried to be patient (with Briere) and it worked out."
Who's Hot: Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann has 3 goals over his last three games. … Rangers captain Ryan Callahan is in the midst of a five-game points streak with 1 goal and 5 assists over that span.
Injury Report: The Panthers have been battling the injury bug all season long and currently have six players on IR. Scottie Upshall (upper body), Marcel Goc (concussion-like symptoms), Jack Skille (shoulder), Sean Bergenheim (lower body), Mikael Samuelsson (back) and Marco Sturm (head) are all out. … For the Rangers, defensemen Michael Sauer (concussion) and Steve Eminger (shoulder) remain out. Defenseman Marc Staal (concussion) made his season debut at the Winter Classic, while forward Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia surgery) is ready to return to game action as soon as coach John Tortorella makes the final call.
Stat Pack: The Rangers set a Winter Classic record with 50 hits Monday and tied the Winter Classic record with 20 blocked shots.
Puck Drop: It's always good news when a team hears they have a previously injured player set to return to the lineup, but sometimes it's best to maintain the status quo. This was exactly the stance Tortorella is taking with Wolski.
"I'm not looking to change the lineup right now … if I had to (Wolski) would probably be ready to go, but to be fair I like what is going on with our team right now and he's going to have to wait his turn," Tortorella told BlueShirtsUnited.com on Wednesday.