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At the Rink: Rangers at Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Brothers Jimmy Hayes and Kevin Hayes will face each other in the NHL?for the first time Wednesday when the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers play New Year's Eve for the second consecutive season.

Jimmy Hayes is second on the Panthers with 10 goals, including three in the past three games.

Kevin Hayes, who followed Jimmy at Boston College, is tied for 11th among NHL???rookies with 13 points. He had a goal Monday in Rangers' 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars.

That defeat snapped New York's eight-game winning streak, their longest in 40 years.

The Rangers (19-11-4) enter play Wednesday with a one-point lead on the Panthers for the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Rangers and Panthers are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild for fewest games played with 34.

The Panthers (16-9-9) will wrap their four-game holiday homestand before starting a season-long six-game road trip Friday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Florida is 2-0-1 on the homestand after losing 2-1 in a shootout against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday. It was the fifth time in its past eight games Florida was involved in a shootout, and another game was decided in overtime.

The Panthers are 6-0-2 at BB&T???Center since a 4-1 loss against the Wild on Nov. 24.

This will be the first of three games this season between the Panthers and Rangers. New York swept the three-game series last season, including a 2-1 shootout victory New Year's Eve.

The Rangers might be without veteran defenseman Dan Girardi on Wednesday after he took a shot off his foot against Dallas. Girardi did not practice Tuesday.

Henrik Lundqvist will be in net for the Rangers; Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said Tuesday morning Al Montoya likely would get the call after Roberto Luongo played against Montreal.

"It's going to be a good game,"???Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said after the loss against Montreal. "They're coming hard. They're a good team. It's important. They're ahead of us in the standings so we've got to get these two points."

Here are the projected lineups:


Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis

Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Lee Stempniak

Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - J.T. Miller

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Dan Boyle

John Moore - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Cam Talbot

Scratched: Jesper Fast, Matt Hunwick

Injured: none


Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Vincent Trocheck

Jussi Jokinen - Dave Bolland - Brad Boyes

Sean Bergenheim - Aleksander Barkov - Jimmy Hayes

Scottie Upshall - Derek MacKenzie - Tomas Fleischmann

Willie Mitchell - Dmitry Kulikov

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Dylan Olsen - Erik Gudbranson

Al Montoya

Roberto Luongo

Scratched:?????????Brandon Pirri

Injured: Tomas Kopecky (upper body), Shawn Thornton (lower body)

Status report: Hunwick, a healthy scratch the past two games, would play if Girardi can't. Girardi is one of six Rangers to play in all 34 games. … Kopecky is a question mark after missing the game against Montreal on Tuesday.

Who's hot:?????????After getting an assist Tuesday, Ekblad needs one point to tie Florida's rookie record for defensemen of 21. … Miller has five goals in 11 games since being recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League. … Boyle has an assist in each of the past three games. … Stepan has four goals and four assists in his past six games.

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