After stumbling a bit, the New York Rangers are starting to regain momentum.
A visit from the NHL-worst Florida Panthers isn’t likely to slow them down.
The Rangers aim for a third consecutive win and fourth in a row over the Panthers as these teams meet for the first time this season Thursday night.
New York (15-12-2) had been outscored 9-2 in losing a season-worst three straight in regulation, but got back on track with Monday’s 2-1 shootout win over Carolina. The Rangers earned another two points the following night with a 3-2 victory at New Jersey, moving into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Michael Del Zotto had a goal and an assist and Rick Nash’s team-leading 10th score put the Rangers up for good 7:25 into the second period. New York improved to 13-3-1 when Nash has least one point.
“Guys are getting more confidence back,” said captain Ryan Callahan, who recorded an assist. “We’re getting back to playing the style we want to play. It shows on the ice. It’s two points, and now we have to move on.”
Henrik Lundqvist had dropped four consecutive starts in regulation for the first time in more than three years before making 29 saves in each of the last two games.
“You try to play with a short memory, you have to. The games come up so fast. Sometimes you can’t really tell why it turns around for you. You just have to keep working hard and hopefully good things will happen,” said Lundqvist, who appears to be OK after taking an inadvertent elbow to the head from teammate Dan Girardi on Tuesday.
“We have to improve and play even better if we’re going to be in the playoffs. These were two good games we can build on.”
While the Rangers are 0 for 9 on the power play over their last five games, they may be able to get things going against Florida, owner of an NHL-worst 73.4 penalty-kill percentage. New York has taken the last three matchups by a combined 13-4 score.
After getting outscored 26-11 during an 0-5-1 skid, the Panthers (8-16-6) opened a season-high five-game road trip with Tuesday’s 4-1 win at Carolina. Jacob Markstrom made 33 saves for Florida, which recorded a season-high 44 shots and scored all four goals in the third period.
“It hurts losing six in a row, but now we’ve got to take that one win, turn it into two and keep it rolling,” Shawn Matthias told the league’s official website. “We’ve got to have a good road trip here.”
Matthias, who was uncertain to play due to flu-like symptoms, scored his sixth goal in 10 games. His production could prove especially key going forward with fellow forwards Stephen Weiss (wrist) and Kris Versteeg (knee) both out for the year. Captain Ed Jovanovski also remains sidelined after re-aggravating a lower-body injury Saturday.
“I think this is exactly what we are looking for – to get out on the road,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “We have a lot of injured guys around. I don’t think that’s fun for anybody. Those guys really want to be in the lineup. But you get out on the road and we’ve got our guys that are playing, and we’ll go out and get ready for what is in front of us.”
Markstrom, who’s never faced the Rangers, improved to 2-5-1 with a 2.97 goals-against average. Lundqvist, meanwhile, is 7-2-0 with a 1.22 GAA and two shutouts in his last nine meetings with Florida.