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Mar 22, 2024 6:05 pm

Panthers, Rangers match up in chase for top spot in East

panarin

Nearly three weeks ago, the Florida Panthers were in the midst of another lengthy winning streak after a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers.

The victory gave them a four-point lead in the race for the most points in the Eastern Conference and now the Panthers are seeing their quality of performance take a dip while the Rangers are ascending.

Two teams vying for the most points in the East get together Saturday night when the Panthers visit the Rangers.

Sam Reinhart scored two of his 48 goals in the previous meeting, which was the fifth of a six-game winning streak that gave the Panthers a four-point gap ahead of the Rangers. Since the final game of its streak, Florida is 2-4-0 and on its second three-game losing streak of the season.

The Panthers are one shy of their longest skid and were thoroughly dissatisfied with what unfolded in a 3-0 home loss to the surging Nashville Predators on Thursday.

Florida was blanked for the second time in three games and started slowly with only five shots on goal in the opening period.

“We’re not close right now,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I’ve got lots of faith we can get them there, but we’re not close to our game right now.”

The lackluster result did not cost the Panthers in the standings as they remained three points behind the Boston Bruins in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of the third-place Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s going to be important on this stretch here that we really ramp up our game up here and get back to our game,” Florida defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said.

Florida did not lose more ground to the Boston Bruins because of the Rangers, who are coming off a 5-2 win in Boston on Thursday.

New York has 12 games left to stave off a challenge from the second-place Carolina Hurricanes. After losing to Florida, they were in a 1-2-1 slide following a 10-game winning streak but are 6-2-0 in their past eight and have scored 17 goals in their past three wins.

“I think we look like a pretty good team now,” New York star Artemi Panarin said. “Obviously, we’re playing well, especially when you can win against such great opponents.”

Perhaps nobody on the Rangers is rolling like Panarin of late. After getting five points in last Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Panarin finished with a hat trick Thursday and has six goals and 12 points over his past eight games as New York’s schedule has ramped up lately.

“I think this is a good thing to be playing these games down the stretch,” New York coach Peter Laviolette said “Florida is coming again … . And then you’ve got tough games with Philly and Colorado on the docket as well.

“So this is perfect for us. We’re in games right now that can help us, I think.”

Against Boston Thursday, Adam Fox scored his career-high 13th goal and Mika Zibanejad also tallied.

The Rangers conceded 26 shots on goal while playing without defenseman Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren, who will both be out again Saturday.

-Field Level Media

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