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GAME DAY: Rangers Face Cats on Kids Day

Lundqvist & Blueshirts Out To Make it 3 in a Row

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. PANTHERS, 1 p.m.
Kids Day, Presented by Party City
Madison Square Garden
MSG Network, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
The Rangers are coming off a game in which, no two ways about it, Henrik Lundqvist put on a show that stole two points. But there is no getting around this, either: The Rangers head into a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden with a 4-1 record over their last five games, and 5-2-1 in their last eight, winning numbers that are an honest reflection of their play over a three-week period that has been both productive and educational for this young Blueshirts team.

"We understand what we need to do," David Quinn said on Saturday after the Rangers brought their practice outdoors at Lasker Rink in Central Park. "I think what's happened over the last few weeks is clarity on how we're going to have to play to have success. We certainly didn't do that Thursday night, other than having an outstanding goaltending performance. But I think our guys are slowly realizing what we're going to have to do night in and night out."

Quinn's guys will go for their fifth win in six games on Sunday afternoon on Broadway against the Florida Panthers, and they will go right back to Lundqvist, the goaltender's third straight start after turning back 45 shots in Thursday's win in Raleigh, and 80 of 83 in winning his last two games.

But they will have to go forward for now without Marc Staal, who underwent an operation on Friday night for an infection in one of his ankles. The Rangers said the veteran blueliner will rest for the next two weeks, and will be reevaluated then.

Staal's injury leaves the Rangers with six healthy defensemen on the roster.

"We're confident in all our guys," said Quinn, who on Thursday called his rookie tandem of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren "our best pair" against the Hurricanes. "These guys have played well. I thought Foxy and Lindgren were really good against Carolina. Fox has obviously had a really good start; Lindgren has stepped in and played well every time he's been out there. So we're confident in our D corps."

Up front, the Blueshirts also will play without Mika Zibanejad for the sixth straight game because of the upper-body injury suffered two Sundays ago at the Garden against Boston. Zibanejad is still considered day-to-day. "He takes a step forward and then it's a step back," Quinn said. "It really is day-to-day. I know we all want more definitive answers, but it's day-to-day."

In the meantime, others continue to step up. Artemi Panarin scored his team-leading eighth goal in Thursday's win over the Hurricanes in Raleigh, and carries a seven-game points streak into the Garden on Sunday. Ryan Strome has points in 10 of his last 12 games, and 3-3--6 in the five games since Zibanejad went out. Pavel Buchnevich has four assists in the last two games.

The Rangers are 4-1 in Zibanejad's absence. The Panthers, meanwhile, put up a 4-1-2 record without one of their own top centers in Vincent Trocheck, who returned to action on Saturday afternoon against the Islanders, a 2-1 loss that put a stop to Florida's three-game points streak.

Trocheck had six points in eight games before going out with a lower-body injury, and his return is a boon to the depth of a Panthers team that boasts a potent top line in Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov. Huberdeau and Barkov each have 20 points through 16 games.

Barkov scored the lone goal in Florida's loss in Brooklyn Saturday - he also had a game-tying goal with 5:25 left waved off for batting it above the crossbar - the first time this season the Panthers have been held under two goals. Sergei Bobrovsky was tagged with the loss despite 34 saves; in the second leg of the back-to-back, first-year Florida coach Joel Quenneville is expected to hand Sam Montembeault his fourth start this season and the 14th of his NHL career.

On Oct. 20, the day after Trocheck went on the shelf, Florida signed free-agent center Brian Boyle; the former Ranger has four points (2-2--4) in eight games as a Panther, and has won 55 percent of his faceoffs for a team that ranks near the bottom of the League in that category at 47 percent overall.


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 72 Chytil - 89 Buchnevich
48 Lemieux - 21 Howden - 24 Kakko
14 McKegg - 28 Andersson - 42 Smith

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

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

PANTHERS
11 Huberdeau - 16 Barkov - 63 Dadonov
68 Hoffman - 21 Trocheck - 10 Connolly
73 Hunt - 9 Boyle - 7 Sceviour
77 Vatrano - 14 Toninato - 62 Malgin

52 Weegar - 5 Ekblad
19 Matheson - 6 Stralman
3 Yandle - 13 Pysyk

33 Montembeault
72 Bobrovsky


NUMBERS GAME

The Rangers have points in 16 of their last 18 games against Florida (13-2-3), since the start of 2013-14. They swept the three-game season series last year.

In their last two games the Rangers had nine goals from eight different scorers.

Brendan Smith has 2-3--5 in his last six games against the Panthers.

The Blueshirts have scored the first goal in four straight games, and 10 of their 14 games this season.

The 14 games the Rangers have played are the fewest in the NHL.

On Saturday the Panthers, an expansion team in the 1993-94 season, played their 2,000th game in franchise history.

First-year Panthers coach Joel Quenneville is three victories away from becoming the second head coach in NHL history to 900 wins. (Scotty Bowman won 1,244 games.)

The Panthers' 3.44 goals per game ranks fifth in the NHL. Saturday's 2-1 loss in Brooklyn was the first time they had been held under two goals this season.

Aleksander Barkov's 16 assists rank fourth in the NHL.

Florida's penalty kill ranks fourth in the League at 86 percent.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Pavel Buchnevich had his goal on Thursday night in Carolina taken away on Friday morning, when it was awarded to Filip Chytil instead (Chytil's third goal in five games this season). No matter: It went down as an assist for Buchnevich, his fourth in the last two games and his team-leading 10th of the season.

Brett Connolly, a 22-goal scorer for Washington last year, has scored six times in his first 15 games as a Panther. Connolly had four points in four games against the Blueshirts last season for the Caps.

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