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Rangers Hope to Turn Tide at Home Against Florida

Plus Tonight's Projected Lineup

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

The Rangers enter the final 12 games of the regular season knowing their play at home must improve.

New York has struggled at The Garden since sweeping a four-game homestand early in February. Since topping the Avalanche on Feb. 11, the Rangers are 1-4-1 in their last six home games. 

Coach Alain Vigneault has stressed that in his mind, there isn't a home or road way for his team to play, but that right now the record does show his team having more success outside of New York.

"Same ice surface. 200 by 85, whether you're playing in Philly, Washington or New York," Vigneault said Friday before the Rangers host the Panthers. "There's no difference. There is a difference right now in our record, our home record and our road record. We need our top players to lead and play the way they're supposed to and they're supposed to do that at home."

Defenseman Brendan Smith, who will play his third home game Friday since being acquired from Detroit last month, said the team just has to get back to focusing on the little things and not trying to do too much at home.

"There's a couple areas we can get better at," the defenseman said. "It's seriously a simple fix. Watching some of the video and stuff, it's attention to detail, and I think if we can kind of do that, we'll switch it and turn it around.

"We have to be good at home coming into the playoffs," Smith added. "We're excited to get out there and get back to our game at home and we've got to be a tough team to play."

The Rangers have five home dates remaining, including tonight's tilt with the Panthers, who are coming off a loss Thursday in Columbus.

Smith said that despite the Panthers' quick turnaround and conventional wisdom stating the Rangers should be the fresher team early on, he's expecting Florida to come out strong Friday.

"Here's the thing about back-to-backs: a lot of times that first 10 [minutes] goes to the team that played the night before because they're used to it. They're into the mode," Smith said. "Sometimes you see where the back-to-back comes at is in the third period where those teams might not have the legs. We need to have a good start because I know they'll come."

The Panthers are a team desperate for points in the Eastern Conference. Florida, who lost to the Blue Jackets 2-1 last night, are currently seven points out of the second Wild Card in the conference.

Vigneault said games against desperate teams don't have much of an effect on the way he and his players approach games.

"On a personal note for me, all our games have been so competitive," he said. "Every team in this league is so good and can beat any other team that you have to be ready and focused on every game.

"It doesn't change my approach and it won't change our team's approach," Vigneault continued. "You've got to be ready to compete hard and work hard and execute."

The Rangers know from experience.

"You might look at a team like Carolina who is out and we went in there and didn't win," Vigneault said. "For me, that's proof there are not easy games and no bad teams. You've got to be ready to play and compete and execute."
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As expected, forward Jesper Fast will return to the Rangers lineup tonight after missing seven games with an upper-body injury.

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Rangers projected lineup for the Panthers

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello
J.T. Miller - Mika Zibanejad - Rick Nash
Michael Grabner - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast
Tanner Glass - Oscar Lindberg - Jimmy Vesey

Marc Staal - Ryan McDonagh
Brendan Smith - Nick Holden
Brady Skjei - Steven Kampfer

Antti Raanta
Magnus Hellberg

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