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GameDay Caterwaul: Florida Panthers vs New York Rangers

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Cats go for eighth straight win at home

NHL: New York Rangers at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers (33-25-7 73P) vs Rangers (30-32-6 66P)

  • WHEN: 7:00 p.m. ET - LBC GameThread right here at 6:30ish
  • WHERE: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
  • ON THE TUBE: FOX Sports Florida, MSG
  • ON THE DIAL: 560 WQAM (D/B), 640 WMEN (PB), 1370 WAXE (TC), Thunder 100.3 (Keys)
  • SOCIALS: #FlaPanthers, #NYR, #NYRvsFLA, @LitterBoxCats, LBC FaceBook
  • ENEMY INTEL: Blueshirt Banter
  • SB NATION: Game Feature Hub
  • FLA IN SEASON SERIES: Game 3 of 3 (1-0-1)
  • ALL-TIME vs NYR: 36W-43L-70T 3TL 5SOL 224GF 291GA
  • ALL-TIME at FLA: 19W-18L-2T 3OTL 5SOL 116GF 133GA
  • LAST MEETING: FLA 5, @ NYR 4 - (Recap) - 11/28/2017
  • NEXT MEETING: 2018-19
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Luongo (13-7-2 .930/2.50 2SO) vs Lundqvist (25-23-5 .916/2.92 2SO)
  • PLAYER STATS: Florida / Rangers

Scouting Report (Courtesy of Stats LLC)

The host Florida Panthers and New York Rangers, who meet on Saturday night at the BB&T Center, have switched places.

Florida (33-25-7), which has made the playoffs just five times in its 25-year history, is the hottest team in the NHL since Jan. 30, going 14-3-1 during that span. The Panthers, who are three points out of the second wild card, have won seven straight home games and will try to break the franchise record in that category when New York visits on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Rangers, after making the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons, appear destined to miss out at 30-32-6. They have lost nine of their past 12 games and raised the white flag of surrender last month when they traded many of their stars in exchange for draft picks, young players and hope for the future.

Among the players traded away were star defenseman Ryan McDonagh and top-six forwards J.T. Miller, Michael Grabner and Rick Nash.

In addition, defenseman Nick Holden was also traded, defenseman Brendan Smith -- in the first year of lucrative long-term contract -- was sent to the minors as a free-agent bust and top-six winger Chris Kreider left Thursday’s 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning after suffering a blow to the head.

And, oh yes, star goalie Henrik Lundqvist was pulled on Thursday after allowing four goals through the first 32:35. And star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been out since Jan. 22 due to a knee injury.

”We’re not a good team right now,” New York forward Mats Zuccarello told the media, “especially not today compared to (Tampa Bay).”

Lundqvist is expected to start on Saturday. His backup at the start of this season, Ondrej Pavelec, has been out since Feb. 9 due to a knee injury, and rookie Alexandar Georgiev is the only other option. Georgiev, 21, has just four games of NHL experience.

Meanwhile, the Panthers will likely start 38-year-old veteran Roberto Luongo, a future Hall of Famer who shut out the Montreal Canadiens 5-0 on Thursday.

”He doesn’t seem to be getting any older,” Florida forward Nick Bjugstad said of Luongo

The Panthers have given Luongo plenty of offensive support, using their speed to create chances and lead the NHL in shots per game this season at 34.4.

”As long as you’re putting volume up,” Bjugstad said of his team’s offensive goal.

Florida has a number of high-end forwards leading the attack, including its MVP, center Aleksander Barkov. Bjugstad has four goals in the past two games, giving the Panthers a lift. And Florida also has young stars such as Vincent Trocheck, an All-Star last season and the team leader with 26 goals, Jonathan Huberdeau, who has a career-best 21 goals, and Evgenii Dadonov, who also has 21 goals after playing the previous five years in Russia.

”Teams have trouble containing our speed,” Luongo said of his skaters. “That’s what we’re good at.”

Defensively, the Panthers are led by Aaron Ekblad, the former No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft. They also have former Ranger Keith Yandle, who hasn’t missed an NHL game in years, and Mike Matheson, who has come of age this season.

Florida analyst Denis Potvin, a hockey Hall of Famer who won four Stanley Cup titles as the New York Islanders’ star defenseman in the 1970s and 1980s, said Ekblad and Yandle deserve a lot of credit.

”They match up with the top five pairs in the NHL,” he said during his broadcast on Thursday night. “That’s a big asset for the Panthers.”

Saturday in the Atlantic (Standings/Panthers Playoff Chances):

  • Chicago (29-31-8 66P) at BOSTON (42-15-8 92P) 1 p.m. NHL Network
  • Vegas (43-19-5 91P) at BUFFALO (22-3511 55P) 1 p.m.
  • MONTREAL (25-31-11 61P) at TAMPA BAY (47-17-4 98P) 1 p.m.
  • Pittsburgh (39-25-4 82P) at TORONTO (39-22-7 85P) 7 p.m. NHL Network

Idle: DET (63P), OTT (57P)

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