Rangers Wrap Up Florida Road Trip Vs. Surging Panthers

The Rangers are in Sunrise, Florida tonight to take on the Florida Panthers to finish a two-game swing through the Sunshine state.

This will be the third consecutive game against a very tough opponent. The Blueshirts were simply outmanned in a 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay. The Lightning exploded out of the gate putting 17 shots on Henrik Lundqvist before the Rangers were able to muster up a shot on Tampa netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. This one was over early in the second period when the Lightning scored to make in 3-0.

Mats Zuccarello was widely quoted following the game observing that his team as presently constructed is not good enough, and it is hard to disagree with the diminutive Norwegians’ honest assessment. The team certainly cannot be accused of mailing it in, but at the end of the day, the roster is woefully short of difference-making skill. Something that most felt was going to be the reality down the stretch, especially when the opponents are legitimate playoff participants and in the case of both Winnipeg and Tampa Bay, legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Ryan Spooner continues to be the offensive bright spot. With a goal and two assists against Tampa, Spooner now has an impressive 10 points in his six games as a Ranger since being acquired from Boston in the Rick Nash trade. He was surprised and perhaps understandably disappointed at having been traded and yet he has certainly put his best skate forward during his short time on Broadway. Spooner continues to show an uncanny knack to get to the right position to make a productive offensive play. Racking up numbers will do no harm come this offseason, as he will have arbitration rights when he becomes a restricted free agent. From a player’s perspective, having offensive numbers sure doesn’t hurt when it comes to arguing for compensation during the arbitration process that can sometimes get contentious.

In the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Panthers trail Columbus for the first wild card spot by four points and are just three points behind the Devils for the second wild card position. Having played four fewer games than the Blue Jackets and three fewer than New Jersey, Florida is definitely in the hunt and is playing extremely well. The Panthers are 7-0-1 in their last nine games and are on a 14-3-0 run since the All-Star break.

Netminder Roberto Luongo is healthy and is 6-0-1 in his last 7 starts boasting a 2.39 GAA and a solid .933 save percentage. Top center Aleksander Barkov is an absolute horse that doesn’t get the league-wide recognition his play deserves. The 22-year-old from Finland is on an eight-game point streak having racked up five goals and nine assists during that stretch. The issue that may concern the Panthers somewhat as this thing winds down is that five of their last 16 games are against Boston. They have their work cut out but seem equipped to make the playoffs for just the sixth time in the franchises’ 25 year history.

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3 KEYS

1. Defending

The Panthers play a solid game that combines both heavy and skill. Barkov likely represents the former while Vincent Trocheck’s game nicely speaks to the latter. The Blueshirts will need smarts and strength in all three zones to defend the Panthers who come at you any number of ways.

2. Keep At It

Despite being overwhelmed early against Tampa, the Blueshirts did not throw in the towel and made a game of it in the third. That attitude needs to be a constant as this season heads to the finish line.

3. Lundqvist

Patience will continue to be a virtue for the Ranger’s most important player now and moving forward. Hank got caught behind his net and that play led to Tampa’s fourth goal last Thursday. While it must be frustrating, The King needs to believe that he has to be patient to have any shot at winning.

[Watch Rangers-Panthers Tonight on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.