Pre-Game: Rangers Seek Pre-Classic Boost In Florida

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(22-9-4, 48pts)              (19-11-7, 45pts)

We’ve been able to string wins together after losses and that’s got to be our thing now. It’s not the way we wanted to come out [on the trip], but that’s got to stop there. That’s got to be our attitude.

Martin Biron via NorthJersey.com

OPPONENT BLOG: The Rat Trick

The Rangers seek a pre-Winter Classic boost in Florida tonight as they look to rebound from Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Capitals in Washington. The defeat snapped the Blueshirts’ five-game winning streak, and with Monday’s flagship game looming large on the horizon, a strong performance against a surprise Panthers side will be vital.

The Southeast Division-leading Panthers have been one of the seasons surprise packages so far. Despite a host of off-season moves and signings, the Cats have quickly found their feet and owe much to the play of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann.

Weiss has missed the last two games but is expected to return to the Panthers line-up tonight after practising this morning. As expected, Henrik Lundqvist returns to the Rangers goal, while Scott Clemmensen deputises for starter Jose Theodore.

In terms of previous meetings so far this season, the Rangers and Panthers are knotted at 1-1. The Panthers edged the Rangers 2-1 in their first meeting on November 23, while the Blueshirts handily beat the Cats 6-1 earlier this month (December 11). The season series means very little at the end of the day, but it would be nice to edge ahead with a win on the road to end 2011.

PROJECTED LINES

Artem Anisimov – Derek Stepan – Marian Gaborik
Carl Hagelin – Brad Richards – Ryan Callahan (C)
Brandon Dubinsky – Brian Boyle – John Mitchell
Ruslan Fedotenko – Mike Rupp – Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto – Anton Stralman
Jeff Woywitka – Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist

KEYS TO THE GAME

BEAT THE BACKUP – Shoot. The. Puck. Clemmensen may be a respectable 3-0-2 on the season, but he’s someone this Rangers offense needs to be handling. The Panthers injury list is lengthy (Sturm, Samuelsson, Skille, Upshall, Bergenheim, Goc, and potentially Weiss) so it’s imperative that the Blueshirts start with their foot on the pump. Get the puck on goal and work Clemmensen.

SPECIAL TEAMS – We can bang on about the powerplay until we’re blue in the face, but at some point it needs to be a difference-maker for the Rangers. With the Panthers’ PK% sitting ust north of 80, tonight’s game may give the Blueshirts man-advantage a chance to do just that.

DON’T LOOK TOO FAR AHEAD – Of course it’s easy to say, but the Rangers absolutely cannot afford to look past the Panthers tonight. This is a good hockey team, one that will jump all over the Rangers if their attention sways too far toward Monday’s Winter Classic in Philly. Focus, win the game and then switch attentions to the next one.

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Prediction – The Rangers edge ahead early and, despite a mini-fightback, do enough to see off the Panthers 4-2.

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Tags: Florida Panthers New York Rangers Scott Clemmensen Washington Capitals Winter Classic

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