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Panthers vs. Rangers: Preview of Eastern Conference Finals?

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Evan Rodrigues celebrates after scoring a goal against New York goaltender Jonathan Quick in a 4-3 win on Dec. 29 in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Florida Panthers played a vital game Saturday afternoon, which was televised nationally. Their game Monday against the New York Rangers is even more significant.

The Panthers, which lead the NHL standings with 86 points, may face the Detroit Red Wings — the team they beat 4-0 on Saturday afternoon on ABC — in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Tonight’s game against the Rangers could preview the 2024 Eastern Conference finals.

The two teams enter their game at Madison Square Garden with the most points in the East (the Panthers have 2 more points with 86 through the 61 games) and are among the league leaders in various categories.

The Panthers are 11th in the NHL in scoring at 3.28 per game, and the Rangers are eighth at 3.33; both teams make their bones with strong defensive play.

Florida has allowed the fewest goals per game (2.36) this season, with New York behind in fourth at 2.70.

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Regarding goal differential, Florida also leads the NHL at plus-57; the Rangers are fourth at plus-36.

The power play? Florida is fifth (26.2 percent) and New York is sixth (24.6). The Rangers’ penalty kill ranks fourth at 83.4 percent, with Florida coming in sixth with an 82.8 percent success rate.

Yeah, these two teams look pretty evenly matched:

  • Florida comes into the night with wins in 10 of 11; New York has won 11 of 13.
  • The Panthers have also won 14 of 16; The Rangers have points in 14 of 16.
  • The Rangers are 21-7-0 and are tied for second in the NHL in home wins. At 21-8-2, Florida has the most road wins of any team in the NHL.
  • New York has won six straight at home and eight of nine at MSG; Florida has won 12 of its past 13 road games.

Simply put, tonight is going to be yet another battle for a Florida team which is assured of a playoff spot but is entrenched in its toughest month of the season.

Of the 14 games in March, which started Saturday in Detroit, every team Florida will play either currently holds a playoff spot or (Devils, Islanders, and Flames) are on the doorstep and trying to fight their way in.

The Panthers will visit the Rangers twice this month, with the second game at MSG on March 23 at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Against Florida, the Rangers have won five of seven games and have points in six straight at home (5-0-1).

April then opens with a four-game road trip, which starts in Toronto and ends in Boston.

To make things more interesting, Florida has a pair of back-to-backs this month, including Monday and Tuesday against the Rangers and Devils.

“This will be a tough month for us,” coach Paul Maurice said. “I think we have 10 playoff teams. The next six weeks will define our game.”

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ 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, NHL App
  • Last Season: Rangers won 3-0
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 1-0) — At Florida: Panthers 4 Rangers 3 (Dec. 29). At MSG: Monday; March 24 (ABC).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Rangers lead 60-33-8, 6 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at New Jersey Devils, 7

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