The Florida Panthers enter one of the most crucial stretches of their season in a Monday night clash with the New York Rangers.
After going 7-2-1 in its last 10 games, Florida has a chance to string together its third win in a row for the first time all season.
And they will try for it against one of the Eastern Conference’s premier contenders.
New York is on a 6-2-2 run in its last 10 games and is currently holding onto the third seed in the Metropolitan Division.
The Panthers faced off with this Rangers team to start the new year after an abysmal 6-8-0 December.
Although they ended up dropping that game 5-3, Panthers coach Paul Maurice often credits that game for the team’s 7-2-1 run that came afterward.
Florida fell behind 2-0 early but they fought their way back in the final two periods to make it a game.
It seemed like the Panthers took the style of game they played in the final two frames and have kept it up ever since.
“We really liked our last two periods against the Rangers. I felt that was the turn where we started playing a better brand of hockey,” Maurice said.
“But you just cannot feed their transition. They are so dynamic on the rush, they play wide and they make those plays. So how we handle those plays will be important, but how many times we put them in that situation is more important.”
Last time out, it was Mika Zibanejad who took advantage of two chances off the rush and scored two goals early on to sink the Panthers.
It will not be easy for Florida, who are wrapping up a road stretch of nine of 11 games, but they want to keep building off what they are doing.
And with that momentum, they have found new ways to generate offense to counteract New York’s speedy rush attack.
“Saying that we are working harder doesn’t cut it. It’s that we are competing harder on every play,” Maurice said.
“We are not waiting for something to break loose where we can try to generate the offense. We generate enough offense in a game but now we’re starting to generate it differently.”
Florida ran into a health scare caused by its road-heavy schedule on Saturday when Sam Bennett and Aaron Ekblad both left in the first two periods with upper-body injuries.
Both of those injuries were minor fatigue-related injuries that will not keep either of them out of Monday’s game.
The Panthers also got good news on the goaltending front with Spencer Knight returning from a two-game conditioning stint in the AHL.
After stopping 45 of 49 combined shots on Saturday and Sunday, Knight will back up usual AHL starter Alex Lyon against the Rangers and will return on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK RANGERS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings Odds — Rangers favored: MoneyLine (-135); Puck line (-1.5, +175); Over/Under 6.5 (-120/+100)
- Last season: Rangers won 2-1
- This season (Rangers lead 1-0): Rangers 5, Panthers 3 (Jan. 1)
- All-time regular season series: Rangers lead 58-32-8, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
15 Anton Lundell // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 9 Sam Bennett // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
14 Grigori Denisenko // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 21 Nick Cousins
94 Ryan Lomberg // 71 Chris Tierney // 54 Givani Smith
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
34 Alex Lyon
30 Spencer Knight
Injured: Anthony Duclair (LTIR-Achilles), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Eric Staal (IR-concussion), Sergei Bobrovsky (LBI)
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald, Colin White
PROJECTED NEW YORK RANGERS LINEUP
20 Chris Kreider // 93 Mika Zibanejad // 24 Kaapo Kakko
10 Artemi Panarin // 16 Vincent Trocheck // 26 Jimmy Vesey
13 Alexis Lafreniere // 72 Filip Chytil // 21 Barclay Goodrow
74 Vitali Kravtsov // 76 Jonny Brodzinski // 15 Jake Leschyshyn
55 Ryan Lindgren // 23 Adam Fox
79 K’Andre Miller // 8 Jacob Trouba
5 Ben Harpur // 4 Braden Schneider
31 Igor Shesterkin
41 Jaroslav Halak