New York Rangers vs. Florida Panthers: 7:00 PM at Madison Square Garden
Where To Watch: MSG Network
Where To Listen: 1050 ESPN
Live In-Game Chat: 6:45 PM on BlueshirtsUnited.com
Coming off the emotional and thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind victory over the Flyers in the Winter Classic on Monday, the Rangers (24-9-4, 52 pts) return indoors to host the Florida Panthers (20-12-7, 47 pts) in a battle of division leaders. The Rangers not only sit atop the Atlantic Division---four points up on the Flyers---but they also remain in first place in the entire Eastern Conference---one point better than the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, while the Panthers own a three-point lead over the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division. The Blueshirts have won two in a row and seven of their last eight games overall, including a 4-1 win down in Florida on December 30th. That contest ended with a chippy incident involving New York's Michael Del Zotto and Mike Rupp and Florida's Tomas Kopecky, so it will be interesting to see if bad blood carries over to tonight, just one week after the original altercation which led to both Del Zotto and Kopecky being fined by the NHL. The Panthers have not played since December 31st, a 3-2 win over the Canadiens, and have won two of their last three games. The key for the Rangers on Thursday will be to avoid any letdown whatsoever after taking part in such an emotional event this past weekend.
The Rangers and Panthers are meeting Thursday for the fourth and final time this season. The Rangers rebounded from a poor all-around effort in a 2-1 defeat down in Florida on November 23rd to score decisive victories over the Panthers on December 11th at The Garden (6-1) and last Friday in Sunrise (4-1). In the last meeting, Carl Hagelin's goal 35 seconds into the contest set the tone as the Blueshirts scored three unanswered goals in the game's opening period. Derek Stepan has scored three of his eight goals this season against Florida.
"It might be human nature sometimes after a big game like that, a big build up with all the hype over the holidays, to take a deep breath and exhale a little bit, but we have talked about it and we want to keep going here, we want to be greedy and keep piling up points"-Brad Richards
By The Numbers
The Rangers 11-3-2 home-ice mark is their best start at Madison Square Garden since the 1995-96 season when they were off to a 12-2-2 record through 16 games.
The Panthers have lost four straight games on the road (0-2-2) and have been outscored 20-5 in that stretch.
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