RANGERS (12-10-1) at PANTHERS (10-9-3)
Last 10: New York 4-6-0; Florida 6-2-2
Season series: This is the second of four games between the Rangers and Panthers this season. Florida took the series opener, 3-2, this past Saturday at Madison Square Garden, getting three unanswered goals from Steven Reinprecht, Jordan Leopold and Nathan Horton.
Big Story: The Rangers finally broke out of their scoring slump on Monday with seven straight goals from five different players to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 7-4, at the Garden. The offensive outburst was a much-needed boost to a Blueshirts team that was averaging just two goals a game in their previous five, and they hope to keep it up against a surging Panthers squad. The Cats had their three-game winning streak snapped with a 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Monday and are seeking to build a new streak, while also attempting to go up two games on the Rangers in the season series.
Rangers: Right wing Marian Gaborik and center Vinny Prospal had been New York’s sole providers of scoring for the majority of the season, but the strong showing from the secondary scorers on Monday might have given the Garden faithful a reason to cheer again. While prior to the tilt with Columbus, Gaborik and Prospal had a hand in 10 of the Blueshirts’ last 11 goals, New York got tallies from previously dormant forwards Sean Avery (two goals) and Artem Anisimov, as well as defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy. Of course, all would not be well in Ranger land if Gaborik didn’t tickle the twine, and the Slovakian did not disappoint by scoring two and adding a pair of assists.
Panthers: Usually, a team would be happy to return to its home ice, but BankAtlantic Center hasn’t been too kind to the Panthers this year as their 3-5-2 home record is second-worst only to the League’s last place Toronto Maple Leafs. Florida is in the midst of a four-game losing streak at home, but has also won five of its last seven contests. The Cats’ 7-4-1 road record is tops in the Southeast Division and is a big factor that has kept them in the thick of the tightly packed Eastern Conference standings.
Who’s hot: Gaborik has 13 points over a seven-game scoring streak and is tied for the League lead with 18 goals. For Florida, center Stephen Weiss has a four-game scoring streak, totaling six points (2g, 4a) over that span.
Injury report: Captain Chris Drury and center Brandon Dubinsky remain sidelined for the Rangers with their long-term injuries. Forwards David Booth, Cory Stillman and Nick Tarnasky are still on injured reserve for Florida
Stat pack: Gaborik leads the entire NHL in points per game average at 1.52. For the Panthers, goaltender Tomas Vokoun leads the Eastern Conference with 640 saves this season.
Puck drop: Both teams desperately need this game, but for different reasons. While the Rangers are trying to win consecutive games for the first time since they took seven in a row following their season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, the Panthers are out to prove to their fans in Sunrise that they can win some games in their home arena. This should be another close matchup considering the Rangers’ recent offensive explosion and Vokoun’s propensity for turning aside the parade of pucks fired on him nightly.