If the Florida Panthers want to take down the New York Rangers, they are going to have to get off to a strong start.
It was a weak start which sank them last time the Rangers visited on New Year’s Day.
Mika Zibanejad scored a pair of goals and the Panthers — despite having one of their best periods of the season — could not catch up after chasing the game for the first 30 minutes.
“We can prepare the best we can for what they are going to do but at the end of the day, it’s all about us and how we counter,” Aaron Ekblad said.
”It’s important that we take control of the game early and have a strong first period to create a sense of control and momentum in our game.”
The Panthers have been riding and dying by that sense of control all season.
When they lead after the first period, they are 24-4-3 while they are an abysmal 2-17-4 when trailing after 20 minutes.
Ever since Florida played their first game with a mostly-healthy roster on March 4, that has been the case.
The Panthers are 4-0-0 when leading after the first period and 1-0-1 when trailing after the first period in nine games through that stretch.
Add in two regulation losses when tied through 20 minutes and you have a team that feeds off of having momentum in their favor.
And with Sam Bennett questionable for Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury, it is hard to know what version of the Panthers comes out in the first.
Bennett has become a stabilizing presence on both sides of the puck that Florida has struggled to win without.
They snapped their seven-game point streak with a two-game regulation losing streak in his latest stint with the injury and went 3-3-0 without him in late February.
But if he is unavailable, they will have to learn how to keep winning without him against a tough Rangers team.
Especially being in the thick of a playoff race.
”Bennett is a player who we rely on now and it’s not an all offensive game,” Maurice said.
“He has become a smart defensive player and that has really helped Matthew Tkachuk and his game.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
NEW YORK RANGERS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- 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 — Panthers favored: Money Line (-120); Puck line (-1.5, +200); Over/Under 7 (-130/+110)
- Last season: Rangers won 2-1
- This season (New York leads 2-0): Rangers 5, Panthers 3 (Jan. 1); Rangers 6, Panthers 2 (Jan. 23)
- All-time regular season series: Rangers lead 59-32-8, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Florida at Ottawa Senators, Monday, 7 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
15 Anton Lundell // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 10 Anthony Duclair
21 Nick Cousins // 6 Colin White // 54 Givani Smith
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
34 Alex Lyon
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald
Injured: Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Sam Bennett (LBI)
PROJECTED NEW YORK RANGERS LINEUP
10 Artemi Panarin // 93 Mika Zibanejad // 91 Vladimir Tarasenko
20 Chris Kreider // 16 Vincent Trocheck // 88 Patrick Kane
13 Alexis LaFreniere // 72 Filip Chytil // 74 Kaapo Kakko
26 Jimmy Vesey // 21 Barclay Goodrow // 14 Tyler Motte
79 K’Andre Miller // 8 Jacob Trouba
77 Niko Mikkola // 23 Adam Fox
5 Ben Harpur // 4 Braden Schneider
31 Igor Shesterkin
41 Jaroslav Halak