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GAME DAY: Blueshirts Close Out Trip vs. Cats

Kakko a Gametime Decision as Rangers Seek Bounceback

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at PANTHERS, 7 p.m.
BB&T Center
MSG2, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Rangers have a chance on Saturday night to bounce back from a tough loss, and a chance to split a two-game road trip, and in Game 18 of an 82-game season David Quinn is not about to blow anything out of proportion.

"What I take moving forward is that we lost one game, not four, and we've all got to keep that in perspective," the Head Coach of the Rangers said following his team's morning skate on Saturday, adding that Thursday's loss "certainly was a night we need to move past, but we can't forget -- we've got to learn from it.

"We can't do get too high when we play a good game, and we can't get too low when we don't play a good game."

The Rangers' loss in Tampa on Thursday was only their second regulation defeat in their last eight (5-2-1). They'll have a chance to answer when they close out this two-game Florida swing on Saturday night with their second matchup in a week with the Florida Panthers.

Kaapo Kakko will be a gametime decision. The red-hot rookie - five goals in his last seven games, two of them including the OT winner on Tuesday night at the Garden - was forced on Thursday to miss his first game this season with the flu. 

Kakko was not on the ice with his teammates at BB&T Center at Saturday's morning skate, but Jacob Trouba, who left Thursday's game with an upper-body injury, participated on Saturday morning and will be good to go against the Panthers as the Blueshirts set out to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since mid-October.

"An important part of an 82-game season is being able to compartmentalize and move on from a win or loss; it shouldn't affect how you play from one game to the next," said Chris Kreider, whose first-period goal on Thursday was his third in five games, and his fifth of the season. "We've had pretty good responses after having games we aren't happy with."

"I'm banking on that trend continuing," Quinn said.

The Rangers also continue to bank on Artemi Panarin, who set up Kreider beautifully for his first of two assists on Thursday night, his 10th straight game with a point, a new career high. Panarin has had multiple points in five of those 10 games. And he'll see a familiar masked face in front of him when he attacks the nets tended by Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky, his former teammate in Columbus and his close friend.

In three career games facing Bobrovsky, Panarin has scored four times, with one assist, on 13 shots on goal.

This season, Panarin leads the Rangers in goals (eight), assists (13, tied with Pavel Buchnevich) and points (21). Quinn on Thursday called him "a guy that can make a play every time he's out there."

"It's nice to have a player that every time he's out there you know good things can happen, you know he can create some offense whether he's getting a goal or setting up a goal," the Head Coach said. "That's why we signed him, and he's delivered."

Henrik Lundqvist will be back in nets for the Rangers, his 10th start this season. Lundqvist is 3-0-1 in his last four decisions, and will look to pad his numbers against the Panthers: Over the past decade, he is 19-5-3 with a 2.20 GAA and .924 save percentage against Florida.

And those numbers include these teams' most recent meeting, this past Sunday at Madison Square Garden, which was an entertaining barnburner that both Quinn and Joel Quenneville never want to see again. Neither team held a two-goal lead in a game that ended 5-5 after 65 minutes had been played, before the Panthers grabbed the extra point in the shootout.

Two-thirds of the Panthers' top line resides in the top 10 in NHL scoring, in Aleksander Barkov (6-9--25) and Jonathan Huberdeau (9-15--24). All six of Barkov's goals have come in the last seven games; he scored on a first-period power play on Thursday night against Winnipeg, but the Panthers never led in a 4-3 loss - a disappointing follow-up to their shootout victory in Boston on Tuesday night, when they came all the way back from a 4-0 third-period deficit to beat the Bruins.

That game kicked off a stretch in which the Panthers, road-heavy to start the season, will play 14 out of 16 games on home ice; between now and Dec. 20 they play just twice on the road.
Bobrovsky, who served as Sam Montembeault's backup for Sunday's shootout at the Garden, has struggled in his first season with Florida, having allowed a League-high 51 goals in 16 games (15 starts), and carrying an .880 save percentage into Saturday night. Florida has masked some of it by scoring 3.53 goals per game, sixth-most in the League.

"I expect a team that plays at a high pace; they've got a lot of offense," Quinn said of the Panthers. "Their forward group is probably as deep a group as there is in the League, they've got defensemen that contribute offensively too, and they've got a good goalie. This is a team that's built to win now, they're well coached, and we're going to have our hands full."

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 72 Chytil - 89 Buchnevich
28 Lemieux - 21 Howden - 14 McKegg
38 Haley - 28 Andersson - 42 Smith
*Kaapo Kakko (flu) is gametime decision

25 Hajek - 8 Trouba
76 Skjei - 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

PANTHERS
11 Huberdeau - 16 Barkov - 63 Dadonov
9 Boyle - 21 Trocheck - 10 Connolly
77 Vatrano - 62 Malgin - 68 Hoffman
73 Hunt - 55 Acciari - 7 Sceviour

3 Yandle - 5 Ekblad
19 Matheson - 6 Stralman
13 Pysyk - 2 Brown

72 Bobrovsky
33 Montembeault


NUMBERS GAME

David Quinn will be behind the bench for his 100th game as an NHL Head Coach, the 21st man to coach 100 games with the Rangers. Florida's Joel Quenneville will be seeking his 900th NHL win.

Henrik Lundqvist will play in his 868th game, tying Grant Fuhr for 10th-most among goaltenders in NHL history. His next victory will be his 454th, matching Curtis Joseph for fifth all-time.

Artemi Panarin has four goals in three games against his friend and former teammate Sergei Bobrovsky. Panarin is one of five NHL players this season to have a point streak of 10 or more games (Pastrnak, Marchand, MacKinnon, Draisaitl).

The Rangers have earned points in 17 of their last 19 games against Florida (13-2-4).

Of the Panthers' 19 games this season, nine have reached overtime, and six have required a shootout, including their 6-5 SO win at the Garden last Sunday. Florida has four wins and five losses after regulation.

Florida is 5-2-5 in one-goal games.

The Panthers have power-play goals in each of their last eight games, and are 9-for-27 (33.3%) in that stretch.

Keith Yandle has 1-6--7 during a four-game point streak. The goal came with 1:39 left on Tuesday in Boston and completed the Panthers' four-goal third-period comeback.

All of Jonathan Huberdeau's team-leading nine goals have come at even strength, tied for fourth in the League.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Chris Kreider has 18 points (7-11--18) in 22 games against Florida, including points in eight of their last 10 matchups. Kreider has scored three times in the Rangers' last five games.

Jonathan Huberdeau was held off the scoresheet on Thursday against Winnipeg for just the fourth time in 19 games this season. Huberdeau has 5-13--18 in 21 career games against the Rangers.

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