Game Sixty-Eight, the Florida Panthers at the New York Rangers
Season Series: 2-0-0, Rangers
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The Rangers finished their challenging five game road trip with a record of 4-0-1, failing to take two points away from only the Detroit Red Wings in what was probably the game where the Blueshirts looked the best. Tonight the Rangers return to the Garden ice against the Florida Panthers who are desperately fighting to get into one of the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. As of this afternoon, the Panthers trail the Capitals and Bruins by six points and have a game in hand only over the Caps. With a win tonight the Rangers will have swept the season series against the Panthers, but the Cats should not be taken lightly.
On and before deadline day the Panthers added former Rangers' captain Jaromir Jagr, but shipped away Sean Bergenheim and Tomas Fleischmann. One has to wonder why they chose to take half-measures with their roster, but we have to remember their financial limitations. It should be interesting to see if Jagr gets any kind of reaction when he returns to Madison Square Garden tonight in his newest duds.
It's been awhile since the Panthers were on the radars of Rangers fans, so let's take a look at their forward lines from their most recent game, a 2-0 victory over the Hurricanes.
Barkov- Huberdeau - Jagr
Jokinen - Bjugstad - Boyes
Pirri- Trocheck - Hayes
Mackenzie - Bolland - Upshall
No NHL goaltender has had to make more saves in the shootout than Roberto Luongo this season (or, in any season ever) and it looks like Luongo is the probable starter as of the writing of this game thread. The Panthers have gotten some superb play out of Dan Ellis lately that has kept their playoff aspirations alive despite a series of devastating injuries to the Panthers' netminders, but there is no doubt about who the starter for the Panthers is. In the first two installments of the season series Florida was shelled for 11 goals by the Blueshirts, they are going to need to do much better than that if they want to stop the Rangers from coming away with a season series sweep tonight.
Cam Talbot is back in the net for the Rangers but it looks like the rest of the Blueshirts lineup will remain static. After tonight's game at the Garden the Rangers will have two days to catch their breath before hosting Brad Richards and the Chicago Blackhawks on the 18th. Once again, the Rangers have just been finding a way to pick up points and get things done and hopefully that will continue tonight in their first game at MSG since March 2nd.
The New York Rangers' March Schedule
3/2, Predators at Rangers, 7:00(win.) 3/4, Rangers at Red Wings, 8:00(overtime loss.) 3/8, Rangers at Blackhawks, 7:30(win.) 3/10, Rangers at Islanders, 7:00(win!!!) 3/11 Rangers at Capitals, 8:00(win) 3/14, Rangers at Sabres, 7:00(win)
3/15, Panthers at Rangers, 5:00
3/18, Blackhawks at Rangers, 8:00
3/21, Rangers at Hurricanes, 7:00
3/22, Ducks at Rangers, 7:30
3/24, Kings at Rangers, 7:00
3/26, Rangers at Senators, 7:00
3/28, Rangers at Bruins, 1:00
3/29, Capitals at Rangers, 3:00
3/31, Rangers at Jets, 8:00
Mike's Player to Watch: J.T. Miller
We all know we're going to hear countless anecdotes and references to the Hayes vs. Hayes things tonight until our brains hurt, so I thought I'd do my best to take steer down a side road of that storyline. Hayes has been centering the Blueshirts' exciting third line with Hagelin and Miller on his wings, but J.T. Miller rode the pine for a long stretch of last night's game in Buffalo (J.T. finished with the lowest TOI among Rangers forwards, with 10:00). Will we see Jesper Fast jump up onto the third line against the Panthers tonight? Or will the coaches give Miller, who has had a great road trip on the whole, some more rope and get him back on the third line with Hayes and Haggy? Miller is pointless in the one game he has played against the Panthers this season.
Let's go Rangers. Drop the puck.