SUNRISE – When they take the ice tonight at BankAtlantic Center against the New York Rangers, the Panthers will be three points – that’s right, only three points – out of fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Coming off emotional victories this week Tuesday against Toronto and Thursday at Carolina, the Panthers will play a Rangers team above them in the standings and one seeking to break a five-game winless streak on the road.
“You’re always concerned with back-to-back games,” said Panther coach Peter DeBoer between meetings Friday morning. “We knew the importance of last night’s game (in Carolina), and it’s not like we’re playing a team tonight that’s below us in the standings.
“We’ve got to get our emotional level right back up to where it was last night.”
The Panthers are 11-3-3 since Jan. 1 and 20-8-7 in their last 35 games. And of the 17 times the Panthers have scored four or more goals this season, 10 of those have come in their last 17 games.
“We’re healthy,” DeBoer said. “The entire first half of the season, through Christmas, we battled injuries at different times with some of our key people. We’re healthy now and we’re able to get some chemistry.”
Goalie Tomas Vokoun’s 42-save performance and fourth shutout of the season earned him one of the NHL’s top three stars Thursday evening in the Panthers 5-0 victory over the Hurricanes. Vokoun is 5-5-1 lifetime against the Rangers with a 2.79 goals against.
The Panthers won at Carolina 5-0 after first period goals from Nathan Horton and Richard Zednik 5:18 apart, and second period goals from Anthony Stewart and Gregory Campbell 12 seconds apart. Michael Frolik also scored.
“I thought (Carolina) came out and controlled play the first 10 minutes of the second period,” DeBoer said. “I thought Stewart’s and Campbell’s goals really backed them off.”
Although he switched line in the third period of Tuesday’s 5-4 victory over Toronto – putting Horton, David Booth and Stephen Weiss
back together – DeBoer had Horton back Thursday centering Zednik and Booth and Weiss centering Cory Stillman and Frolik.
“We’ve stayed with the regular lines other than that one period against Toronto,” DeBoer said. “The regular lines had given us points in 11 of 13 games, and we need depth at center with Nathan.”
The Rangers come into tonight’s game off a 5-4 shootout victory Wednesday against the Capitals to break an 0-4-1 skid and had scored just five goals during that stretch. The Rangers were credited with being more physical during the game.
“When things are going tough like they have been for us, that’s how you get out of it and put other teams back on their heels, by playing more physical,” said goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is 7-3 lifetime against the Panthers with a 2.15 goals against.