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Rangers, Panthers eye key points in playoff race

New York battling for second in Metro; Panthers fighting to stay atop Atlantic

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PANTHERS (40-23-9) at RANGERS (40-24-8)

TV: 7 p.m. ET; FS-F, MSG, NHL.TV

NEW YORK -- Neither the New York Rangers nor the Florida Panthers were happy with the way they played Saturday. It's a big reason why fresh starts and new opportunities were themes of their respective morning skates at Madison Square Garden on Monday.

The Rangers, fresh off a 4-1 loss at the San Jose Sharks, a result of their dismal third period, see the game against Florida as the start of a 10-game push toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Seven of the games are at home, where the Rangers have played only four times in the past month and where they have earned a point in 26 of 34 games this season (23-8-3).

New York went 1-1-1 on its three-game California road trip last week. The Rangers are 3-4-2 in their past nine games. They're tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins with 88 points, but can move into second in the Metropolitan Division by earning at least a point against Florida.

The New York Islanders trail the Rangers and Penguins by three points, but have two games in hand. The Islanders also play Monday. The Penguins, who have won six in a row, are idle.

"Right now we're in good shape," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We got our destiny in our own hands as far as getting into the playoffs, as far as home-ice advantage. It's a matter of us going out, executing and playing well. We've just gotten back from a stretch of five games in seven-and-a-half days against premier opponents. Our best hockey has to come to the forefront."

The Panthers, fresh off a 5-3 home loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, are first in the Atlantic Division with 89 points, two more than the Tampa Bay Lightning and three more than the Boston Bruins.

Florida plays in Boston on Thursday and in Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Panthers are 1-6-3 in their past 10 games against teams that currently occupy a playoff position. They'll have seven games remaining after this week, all against teams that are out of playoff position.

"I want to finish in first place, that's the goal of our team, but when we talked about it in training camp, [it was] battle for the playoffs," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "It's not where you finish, it's how you finish. If we finish the next 10 games and play well and we're in first place, I'll be happy. If we play well down the stretch here and finish in second place, I'll be happy. Just play well."

The Rangers' problem of late has been a lack of scoring from their forwards. Of their six goals on their three-game California trip, four came from defensemen Kevin Klein and Dan Boyle.

Forward Rick Nash has no points in five games since returning from his eight-week absence because of a bone bruise in his left leg.

"I expect more out of myself," Nash said.

Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Jesper Fast and Keith Yandle were held without a point in California. Derick Brassard and Eric Staal each had one assist. Factoring in Nash, that's seven of the Rangers' top-nine forwards and their top-scoring defenseman who were shut out or close to it against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Sharks.

"There's no excuses," Brassard said. "We need to show up."

Here are the projected lineups:

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith
Jiri Hudler - Nick Bjugstad - Teddy Purcell
Garrett Wilson - Greg McKegg - Shawn Thornton

Dmitry Kulikov - Aaron Ekblad
Brian Campbell - Alex Petrovic
Jakub Kindl - Stephen Kampfer

Al Montoya
Roberto Luongo

Injured: Derek MacKenzie (lower body), Erik Gudbranson (lower body), Willie Mitchell (upper body), Dave Bolland (lower body)
Scratched: Quinton Howden, Logan Shaw

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Jesper Fast
J.T. Miller - Eric Staal - Kevin Hayes
Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - Viktor Stalberg

Ryan McDonagh - Kevin Klein
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
Keith Yandle - Dan Girardi

Henrik Lundqvist
Antti Raanta

Injured: Dylan McIlrath (knee)
Scratched: Oscar Lindberg

Status report: Gallant said Montoya is starting because the Panthers are following a plan put in place by goalie coach Robb Tallas created to ensure enough rest for Luongo and enough playing time for Montoya so he stays fresh. Luongo, 36, is expected to start in Boston on Thursday. He started the past two games. … McIlrath practiced with the Rangers in a yellow non-contact jersey on Monday and is considered day-to-day. He's been out since March 6.

Who's hot: For the Panthers, Bjugstad, Purcell and Hudler have combined for 10 points, including five goals, in the past three games. Bjugstad had six points in the past five games. … For the Rangers, Boyle has goals in back-to-back games.

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