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Preview: Panthers at Rangers

Forward Jesper Fast to return for New York; Florida 2-8-1 in past 11 games

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

PANTHERS (30-28-11) at RANGERS (44-24-2)

7 p.m. ET; NHLN, MSG, FS-F, NHL.TV 


Panthers team scope  

The Florida Panthers play the second game of a back-to-back set seven points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference with 13 games remaining. A 2-1 loss at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday dropped the Panthers to 2-8-1 since their 5-0-0 West Coast trip from Feb. 11-20. "We're going to fight until the end," defenseman Keith Yandle said. "With the character we have in here, and the guys we have, we're going to battle until the end. We're going to play for each other and for everybody in our organization. We've got to worry about ourselves and come out ready [Friday] and play well." Goaltender James Reimer will make his seventh straight start with Roberto Luongo sidelined because of a lower-body injury. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad will miss his third consecutive game because of a concussion. Yandle will play in his 621st straight NHL game, a streak that began March 26, 2009.


Rangers team scope  

New York Rangers forward Jesper Fast will return after missing seven games because of an upper-body injury sustained in the third period of a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Feb. 28. "Happy to be in there," Fast said. "I haven't played a game in a while but I've been working hard the last couple of days to get back, so should be good." The Rangers, who hold the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference and are five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division, expect a desperate Panthers team. "We have to be sure to match their first 10 [minutes] or better it," defenseman Brendan Smith said. "Sometimes the hardest teams to play are the ones that are most desperate. We want to amp it up going into the playoffs. We're testing ourselves tonight." The Rangers have failed recent tests at home, where they have lost five straight games and been outscored 19-8. They are 19-15-2 at Madison Square Garden this season and an NHL best 25-9-0 on the road. "Same ice surface, 200 by 85 [feet]," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Whether you're playing in Philly, Washington or New York the ice is the same and there is no difference. There is a difference right now, obviously, in our home record and our road record. We need our top players to lead and play the way they're supposed to, and they're supposed to do that at home."


Panthers projected lineup

Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Jaromir Jagr

Thomas Vanek -- Nick Bjugstad -- Jonathan Marchessault

Jussi Jokinen -- Vincent Trocheck -- Reilly Smith

Shawn Thornton -- Derek MacKenzie -- Colton Sceviour

Keith Yandle -- Jason Demers

Michael Matheson -- Alex Petrovic

Jakub Kindl -- Mark Pysyk

James Reimer

Reto Berra

Scratched: Michael Sgarbossa, MacKenzie Weegar

Injured: Roberto Luongo (lower body), Aaron Ekblad (concussion), Denis Malgin (concussion)


Rangers projected lineup

Chris Kreider -- Derek Stepan -- Mats Zuccarello

J.T. Miller -- Mika Zibanejad -- Rick Nash

Michael Grabner -- Kevin Hayes -- Jesper Fast

Tanner Glass -- Oscar Lindberg -- Jimmy Vesey

Marc Staal -- Ryan McDonagh

Nick Holden -- Brendan Smith

Brady Skjei -- Steven Kampfer

Antti Raanta

Magnus Hellberg

Scratched: Pavel Buchnevich, Matt Puempel, Brandon Pirri, Adam Clendening

Injured: Henrik Lundqvist (hip), Kevin Klein (back spasms), Dan Girardi (ankle)


Status report

The Panthers will use the same lineup as they did Tuesday. ... Ekblad is expected to miss another week. "He's feeling really good but we don't want to rush him back," said coach Tom Rowe, who added Luongo may be longer term. ... The Panthers did not hold a morning skate. … Buchnevich is out with Fast returning but there is no consideration of sending him to Hartford of the American Hockey League, Vigneault said. … Lundqvist will continue to skate with goalie coach Benoit Allaire through Monday. Vigneault said Thursday that Lundqvist is feeling a lot better and could return during the three-game California road trip that begins March 25. … Hellberg could be in line to make what would be his first NHL start. "Tough to say," Vigneault said. "I've just seen him in practice. At some point logic would say he will get a game depending on how quick [Lundqvist] comes back. But we're focused on tonight." … Girardi will miss his ninth straight game and Klein his 12th.


Who's hot

Marchessault has five points (four goals, one assist) in his past four games. Barkov has six points (two goals, four assists) in his past four games. Trocheck has six assists in his past five games. … Kreider has five points (two goals, three assists) during a four-game point streak.

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