The Florida Panthers will try and extend on their SouthEast division lead as they welcome the New York Rangers to the Bank Atlantic Center for tonight’s contest.
The Panthers are currently hanging onto top spot in the SouthEast division, and have been doing so since late November. They now have a lead of only 4 points over the Winnipeg Jets who sit in the 7th position in the Eastern Conference.
After a good start to the month of December, the Panthers found themselves stumbling into the Christmas break posting a record 2-3-2 in the final two weeks leading up to the holidays, capped off by an 8-0 loss at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Tibb’s eve. A nasty schedule where they faced tough teams, combined by injuries to key players played factors in the results.
Since the Christmas break, the Panthers have played one game which come on Tuesday night at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite having 7-regulars out of the lineup, Florida didn’t disappoint at home as theywalked away with the 5-3 victory.
Erik Gudbranson got things started for the Panthers as the rookie netted just his second goal of the season 1:57 into the game. Toronto tied the game thanks to Mikhail Grabovski who beat Panthers goalie Jose Theodore just two minutes into the second. Florida responded just 19 seconds later to take the 2-1 lead. The Maple Leafs then ran into penalty trouble and the Panthers capitalized scoring two goals just over two minutes apart to builda 4-1 lead.
Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf cut the lead to 4-2 with a snapshot that beat Theodore midway through the second period. The Leafs then made it interesting midway through the third as Mikhail Grabovski found the back of the net once again, this time on the powerplay as the Maple Leafs trailed 4-3. But, that would be as close as they would get as Tomas Fleischmann scored his 13th of the season and put the game out of reach as Florida walked away with the 5-3 victory.
Theodore, who is no stranger to beating the Maple Leafs thanks to his time as a Montreal Canadiens made 29 saves for the win. Jonas Gustavsson took the loss for the Maple Leafs as he made just 18 saves, butJames Reimer who started the game for the Leafs allowed 3 goals on just 8 shots.
The Rangers on the other hand did not suffer the same fate as the Panthers as they won their last four-matchups leading up to the Christmas break with victories over the Coyotes, Devils, Islanders and Flyers. They followed up their excellent play with a 3-0 shutout victory over the Islanders on Boxing Day.
Finally, the Rangers had their winning streak snapped on Wednesday as the club opened up a 3-game road trip which saw them take on the Capitals. The 4-1 loss was the first since the Blueshirts lost 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues back on December 15th. Brandon Dubinsky had the only goal for the Rangers, and Martin Biron made just 19 saves for the loss. Capitals goaltender and former Florida Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun made 31 saves for the victory.
Notes: Before the game, New York Rangers placed forward Sean Avery on waivers for the second time this season. This is the last game the Rangers will play before their Winter Classic game January 2nd against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The two clubs have split the season series 1-1 with the home team winning in each circumstance. This is the 3rd of 4 meetings between the clubs this season. The Panthers are 31-38-6-5 all-time against the Rangers, but the Rangers have not won in Sunrise dating back to November 26th of last season.
New York Rangers: (22-9-4; 48PTS, 2nd Eastern Conference, 1st Atlantic Division) (11-6-2 Away)
Florida Panthers: (19-11-7; 45PTS 3rd Eastern Conference, 1st SouthEast Division) (9-3-5 Home)
Powerplay: NYR (15.3% tied 20th NHL) – FLA (19.6% tied 6th NHL)
Penalty Kill: NYR (85.6% 7th NHL) – FLA (80.2% 24th NHL)
GF/GA: NYR (102GF, 10th NHL / 73GA, 2nd NHL) – FLA (97GF, tied 15th NHL / 97GA, 10th NHL)
New York Rangers: Chad Kolarik (Knee Surgery), Marc Staal (Concussion), Wojtek Wolski (Sports Hernia Surgery), Michael Sauer (Concussion), Steve Eminger (Separated Right Shoulder)
Florida Panthers: Scottie Upshall (Upper Body), Marcel Goc (Concussion-Like Symptoms), Jack Skille (Shoulder), Sean Bergenheim (Lower Body), Marco Sturm (Head), Mikael Samuelsson (Upper Body), Stephen Weiss (UpperBody)