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Panthers hitting stride as they welcome Rangers

by Tal Pinchevsky

RANGERS (12-12-0) at PANTHERS (7-13-5)


Last 10: New York 6-4-0; Florida 4-5-1

Season series: This is the second of three meetings between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. New York won 4-3 on Nov. 10 at Madison Square Garden. They conclude their season series on New Year's Eve at BB&T Center.

Big story: The Panthers were 1-3-0 in their first four games under interim coach Peter Horachek, but are 3-1-1 in their past five and opened a five-game homestand by beating the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers started their five-game road trip with back-to-back wins but were routed 5-0 on Monday by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Team Scope:

Rangers: New York entered its game in Tampa Bay having won six straight road games, allowing eight goals in that span. But the wheels came off against the Lightning, who are without star center Steven Stamkos and had lost four in a row.

Rookie Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring with his first shot on his first shift in his NHL debut. Six days after playing in his 1,000th NHL game, captain Martin St. Louis then scored consecutive goals before Teddy Purcell scored two of his own in a 5-0 win.

Henrik Lundqvist was pulled after allowing four goals on 22 shots and the Rangers failed to score despite firing 37 shots at Ben Bishop.

"I didn't think we played that bad," Lundqvist said. "We made a few mistakes and they made us pay for it. Marty [St. Louis] had a great night."

New York assigned forward J.T. Miller to its American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford, potentially meaning Taylor Pyatt could return from a concussion.

Panthers: When Horachek was hired Nov. 8, Florida had lost seven straight and posted a 3-9-4 record that was among the worst in the League. Under Horachek and his new staff, Florida is 4-4-1 and stands within three points of the sixth-place Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division.

The Panthers opened a homestand Monday against the Flyers and got consecutive goals from Sean Bergenheim -- his first two of the season -- in the second period to take a 2-0 lead. Wayne Simmonds scored a power-play for the Flyers in the third, but Tim Thomas made 19 of his 38 saves in the final period and Erik Gudbranson's insurance goal iced a 3-1 win.

After going 1-3-2 on a season-long six-game homestand last month, Florida is 2-0-1 at home.

"We had a pretty good road trip and we wanted to start the homestand the correct way," Thomas said. "We need to take advantage of being at home and we did that tonight."

Who's hot: Derek Stepan and Dan Girardi have two points in their past three games for New York. … Scottie Upshall has seven points in his past seven games for Florida. Brad Boyes has three goals and five points in his past seven games.

Injury report: Pyatt (concussion) has been skating and could play Wednesday. … For the Panthers, Ed Jovanovski (hip), Matt Gilroy (lower body) and Tomas Kopecky (upper body) are on injured reserve. Jesse Winchester (lower body) is questionable.

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