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At the Rink: Panthers at Rangers

by Jon Lane

NEW YORK -- Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo skated Sunday but remains day-to-day with a shoulder injury and will miss his fifth straight game when the Panthers play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Luongo also participated at the morning skate Saturday when he took shots from forwards Tomas Kopecky and Shawn Thornton, and defenseman Alex Petrovic.

"Obviously when [Luongo] is ready he wants to play," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "He's just not ready. He's getting better. He was hoping and we were hoping he's going to be quicker than this but it just takes some time. Every day is getting better. He's getting closer."

Goalie Dan Ellis will start for the Panthers. Ellis, who lost all five of his starts with Florida last season, made 27 saves Saturday in a 2-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes to earn his first shutout since Feb. 1, 2014. He is 3-0-1 with a 1.92 goals-against average and .925 save percentage this season.

"It makes it a lot easier on our team when Dan plays this well, that's for sure," Gallant said. "It doesn't put pressure on guys to come back to early.

"He's played well and has played great. All season long we've been happy with goaltending no matter who's in there. When we lost [Luongo and Al Montoya] a week and a half ago, [Ellis] comes in and doesn't miss a beat. He's been real good for our club."

The Panthers enter Sunday winners of three straight, 5-1-1 in their past seven games and six points behind the Washington Capitals for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They begin a challenging stretch that has them facing the Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Florida has earned 11 of a possible 14 points since forward Jaromir Jagr debuted Feb. 28 and is averaging 3.29 goals a game after averaging 2.28 through its first 61 games.

"For us, obviously, our focus is to continue to play the right way at both ends of the rink, both defensively and offensively," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "This team has been playing well lately. They're not giving up a lot and they're a tough opponent in the NHL. We're going to go out there and try to play to our strengths and make it a good game."

The Rangers have been on a remarkable run with a 14-2-3 record since goalie Henrik Lundqvist sustained a vascular injury and are 32-7-3 since Dec. 8 to take the lead in the race for the Presidents' Trophy with 93 points. Lundqvist, sidelined since Feb. 2, has yet to be cleared by the Rangers medical staff but continues to make progress during on-ice workouts.

"I talked to both [head trainer Jim Ramsay and strength and conditioning coach Reg Grant] when I got here today," Vigneault said. "I guess he's been pushing real hard on the ice, so conditioning-wise I understand he's looking real good."

Although the Rangers continue to struggle on the power play -- they were 0-for-3 in a 2-0 win Saturday at the Buffalo Sabres, and are one for their past 19 -- Vigneault said he is not contemplating playing four forwards on his power-play unit.

"I look at last night, I know I didn't score but we had a couple off the bars," Vigneault said. "We had some real good looks, three scoring chances on one [power play]. Obviously the results aren't there on the power play lately, and it should be result-oriented business, but sometimes guys are real close and you have to stick with them. I think we're close right now."

Here are the projected lineups:

PANTHERS

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jussi Jokinen - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes

Brandon Pirri - Vincent Trocheck - Jimmy Hayes

Shawn Thornton - Dave Bolland - Scottie Upshall

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Willie Mitchell - Erik Gudbranson

Dmitry Kulikov - Steven Kampfer

Dan Ellis

Sam Brittain

Scratched: Tomas Kopecky, Alex Petrovic, Derek MacKenzie

Injured: Roberto Luongo (shoulder), Al Montoya (groin)

RANGERS

Rick NashDerick BrassardMats Zuccarello

Chris KreiderDerek StepanMartin St. Louis

Carl HagelinKevin HayesJ.T. Miller

James SheppardDominic MooreJesper Fast

Ryan McDonaghDan Girardi

Keith YandleDan Boyle

Marc StaalMatt Hunwick

Cam Talbot

Mackenzie Skapski

Scratched: None

Injured: Kevin Klein (upper body), Henrik Lundqvist (vascular), Tanner Glass (upper body)

Status report: Sheppard is back on the fourth line replacing Glass, who Vigneault said will not be available because of upper-body soreness. … Miller, who will play in his 100th career game, is back on the third line with Hayes and Hagelin after he was benched for the final 12:44 of the game Saturday, his 22nd birthday. … Talbot will start for the Rangers after Skapski made 20 saves to defeat Buffalo. … Thornton will play for the Panthers.

Who's hot: Talbot has won his past three starts with an 0.66 goals against average, a .977 save percentage, and a shutout. He is the first goalie in Rangers history to allow one goal or fewer in regulation in four straight games. … Skapski is riding a shutout streak of 119:46. … Brassard has points in 13 of his past 20 games (two goals, 15 assists). … Jagr has a goal and four assists in six games with the Panthers. … Playing with Jagr, Huberdeau has eight points (2-6-8) in those six games. … Pirri has 11 goals in his past 16 games.

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