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Can the Florida Panthers Get Right Against the Rangers?



Florida panthers
Sam Reinhart celebrates a goal during the Florida Panthers 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on March 4 at Madison Square Garden. Florida has lost its past three going into tonight’s rematch on ABC. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

FORT LAUDERDALE — On a travel day following a game, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice either gives his team the morning off, or runs a light practice that resembles a recreational skate.

Not the case on Friday.

Maurice had his team on the ice at noon following Thursday’s lackluster 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators and put them through their paces.

There was a lot of skating, a lot of instruction — and a lot of changes.

The Panthers take a three-game losing streak into Saturday’s nationally televised game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.

Florida has moved away from what has worked so well this season, going from a hard forechecking team which brings plenty of pressure in both ends of the ice to a team which playing on the periphery.

Maurice’s practice Friday included a lot of work deep in the zone, a reminder this team needs to get back to what it does well.

“I think the worst thing this team can do is lose its confidence,” Evan Rodrigues said. “We have to recognize what has made us so successful this season and we just have to get back to it. Our game is not pretty; it is hard-nosed, it is gritty.

”It is based on hard work with backchecking and forechecking. We almost have to simplify things to get back on track. We have a team that can make plays, but they have to come at the right time. That comes when we back teams off, put pressure on them and tilt the ice in our favor, we can build speed through the neutral zone and get clear-cut odd-man rushes. We know we have the ability, we just have to execute.”

Maurice said he does not plan on having captain Sasha Barkov in the lineup for the second straight game with an apparent lower-body injury.

Jonah Gadjovich also did not practice after playing on Thursday.

“I don’t have Barkov in the lineup unless the doctors tell me something has changed,” Maurice said. “They tell me who is playing.’’

Based on practice lines, the only one Maurice is bringing back is what could be considered a new top trio of Sam Bennett with Carter Verhagehe and Matthew Tkachuk on the wings.

Anton Lundell, who filled in for Barkov Thursday, was back with Sam Reinhart only Eetu Luostarinen joined them.

The third line features Rodrigues, Steven Lorentz, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Kyle Okposo appears to be getting back into the lineup as he was on a fourth line with Kevin Stenlund and Nick Cousins.

Ryan Lomberg skated with the scratched/suspended defensemen making it appear he would be scratched Saturday night for the first time since 2022.

Although Lomberg did not want to speculate on whether he will play Saturday or not, he said his team just needs to get back to what works.

“We are a good team and everyone in here knows that,” said Lomberg, who played in all 82 games last season and all games in this one.

“We have gotten away from our game but we have time to correct it. We trust our coaches and our leadership to get us ready for the playoffs. We have about a month here, and we will be ready.”

Maurice has not been happy with much of his team’s play dating back to their 4-3 comeback win in Dallas last week when Florida trailed 3-0 midway through the second period.

Since then, the Panthers were blanked by Carolina and Nashville — and were goalied by Andrei Vasilevskiy in a 5-3 loss to the Lightning last Saturday.

“Paul said in our meeting today that we looked like a team trying not to get hurt,’’ Lomberg said. “We just cannot turn it back on for Game 1. Last year, we were obviously in a different situation; we were fighting for our lives and had to give everything we had, every night. We have to be mature about this and get back to our game.’’

With three games in four days in New York, Philadelphia and back home against Atlantic-leading Boston, the Panthers would certainly like to get back to their old ways sooner than later.

Florida is three points back of the Bruins in the league, conference and divisional standings — with two games in hand.

The Panthers have shown the ability to get right quickly — and with 12 games left, they have more than enough time to get a top playoff seed and roar into the postseason.

“This, hopefully, is the last bit of learning that we need to do to get our game right,” Maurice said. “You need a certain amount of adversity, you need a couple of guys out of your lineup so to learn to scratch-and-claw out a win. Barkov missed games in the playoffs last year, we had guys out and guys playing hurt. We still found a way to win. You get to keep a little of that, but you have to redo that every year.’’

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  • When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
  • TV/Streaming: ABC, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • Last Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 2-0) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Panthers 4, Rangers 2 (March 4); Saturday
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 60-34-8, 6 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Sunday at Philadelphia Flyers, 6 p.m.

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