Less than a week ago the Rangers (15-12-2, 32 pts) were in the midst of a dire three-game losing streak, and had fallen into tenth place in the Eastern Conference. Tonight when they host the Florida Panthers (8-16-6, 22 pts) at The Garden, the Rangers will be seeking their third consecutive win and looking to strengthen their hold on one of the top eight spots in the conference.
The quick turnaround began with Monday's 2-1 shootout victory on home ice over the Carolina Hurricanes. It continued and was bolstered 24 hours later with an impressive 3-2 road win in New Jersey, one that featured some stellar goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, a robust physical style of play, and goals from Michael Del Zotto, Carl Hagelin, and Rick Nash. The two wins pushed the Rangers record in one-goal games to a very impressive 9-3-2. And with those wins the Blueshirts have now won seven of their last 11 games overall---even including those three straight losses last week.
A victory this evening would solidify the Rangers return to form. Whether or not it's Lundqvist---who has started 11 of the previous 12 games for the Rangers---or more likely Martin Biron in goal is not yet known, but the Blueshirts feel confident with either between the pipes. Lundqvist is among the league leaders in wins (13), save percentage (.922), and goals against average (2.23), while Biron (2-1-1, 2.18 gaa, .923 save %) is coming off an outstanding 28-save performance 11 days ago in the 4-1 win over the Capitals.
There will be one lineup change at least for the Rangers tonight. Micheal Haley was returned to the Connecticut Whale on Wednesday after appearing in nine straight games with the Rangers. His spot in the lineup will be taken by either Chris Kreider, who was recalled from the Whale Wednesday, or Arron Asham, who is on the verge of returning after a 14-game absence due to a bad back. Kreider was lighting it up in the minors since being sent to the Whale a couple of weeks ago. The rookie forward had six goals and seven points in eight games with the Whale during his most recent stint in Connecticut.
In seeking their third straight win tonight the Rangers face off for the first time this season with a Panthers squad that has the fewest wins and fewest points of any team in the entire National Hockey League. It has been quite the fall for the Panthers, who last year rose up and won the Southeast Division title, finishing 2011-12 with 94 points---a 22-point jump from the year before. But this season the Panthers have an NHL-worst -36 goal differential, and have surrendered by far the most goals in the league (110), while their 74 goals scored are fifth fewest.
Perhaps it's not a great surprise to see Florida struggle considering they won a dvision title last year despite having a -24 goal differential.
The Panthers are coming off a 4-1 win in Carolina on Tuesday---the start of a five-game road trip. That win snapped an 0-5-1 skid; and the Panthers are just 3-9-2 in their last 14 contests. Half of Florida's eight wins this season have come on the road, including a pair in Philadelphia over the Flyers.
As part of their 44-shot outburst in Carolina on Tuesday, the Panthers scored twice on the power play---their first power plays goals in ten games. However when the Panthers do score on the power play, they tend to do it in bunches. Already this season they have a game in which they scored four power play goals and anothet two in which they scored three power play goals.
Last season the Rangers won three of four games with the Panthers, including a 6-1 victory at The Garden on December 11, 2011 and a 3-2 overtime win on home ice January 5, 2012.
Will the Rangers make it three in a row tonight, or will they stumble against the struggling Panthers? Share your predictions below.