Rangers vs. Panthers
Madison Square Garden, 7:00 p.m. Tuesday
Rangers record: 29-19-3
Panthers record: 21-21-5
The Rangers have one more game to play before a well-deserved (and desperately needed) All-Star break. They will face off against the Florida Panthers tonight at Madison Square Garden after earning “Another Huge Win” (as the Rangers’ website aptly put it) last night in Washington D.C.
The Panthers come to town hoping to put their four consecutive losses behind them. Currently out of a playoff spot, this game against the Rangers is a must-win for the Blueshirts’ Eastern Conference rivals. The Rangers have historically struggled against the Florida teams, and the last time these two teams met, the Panthers decisively shut out the Rangers by the score of 3-0. David Booth, ex-Ranger Chris Higgins, and Stephen Weiss scored the goals in that January 2nd game, and all three have been key parts of the Panthers’ offensive production as of late. Though he hasn’t scored a goal in his last nine games, Stephen Weiss leads the team with 33 points, and has been consistently racking up multi-assist games. A healthy David Booth is second, but leads the team in goals with fourteen. Rangers’ fans would be shocked to learn that Chris Higgins tallied five goals and six assists in seven games before going down with a hamstring injury on January 7th. (Higgins made the trip up north with his team and he is hopeful for today’s game.)
Not unlike the Rangers, the Panthers have some important players on their IR: steady defensemen Bryan McCabe and Dmitry Kulikov are out with a broken jaw and bruised ribs, respectively. Kulikov was the Panthers’ 2009 first round draft pick, and he picked up five points in three games prior to his rib injury. Jacob Markstrom, the twenty-year-old rookie who was called up to play backup to Scott Clemmenson, was sent back down to the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in light of goaltender Tomas Vokoun recovery from an upper-body injury. Vokoun will be in the starting lineup against the Rangers tonight.
The Blueshirts were a beleaguered bunch coming into last night’s game, but the battle-back attitude that they have demonstrated throughout these tough games paid off once again. The Rangers now lead the league in winning games in which they trailed going into the third period. Also impressive was the play of Michael Sauer, who stepped up to the top line to replace the injured Dan Girardi, and the increasing number of rookies who populate the Rangers’ current roster.
The Panthers took three consecutive games past regulation time last week before heading out on their northeastern road trip, and they are undoubtedly worn out by the extra playing time-- not to mention the scant amount of rest in between games. The Rangers, too, had a packed schedule this past week, and the team has seen an already depleted roster shrink even further with the recent loss of Dan Girardi. Despite this, the Rangers managed to come from behind and tie up the last night’s game in the third period, relying on the shootout prowess of Wojtek Wolski, Mats Zuccarello, and Artem Anisimov to pull through for the well-earned win.