Tuesday, April 23, 2013
W2W4: Rangers at Panthers
By Katie Strang
At a glance: Riding a three-game winning streak into Tuesday’s game against the Panthers in Sunrise, Fla., the seventh-place Rangers have a chance to clinch a playoff spot and ensure their third straight playoff appearance. A win over the Panthers and a regulation loss by the Winnipeg Jets would punch the Rangers' ticket. Henrik Lundqvist will make his 12th straight start against the Panthers, who have not put up much of a fight of late. Toiling at the very bottom of the league standings, the Panthers have dropped six straight.
Logjam: The Rangers sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, tied with the eighth-place Senators in points but owning the first tiebreaker (non-shootout wins). However, there is little room to breathe, with four teams battling for the last three playoff spots. Only two points separate sixth place from ninth, with the streaking Jets trying to break back into the bracket while the Senators, Rangers and Islanders try to hold their ground in the last week of the regular season.
Star power: With four goals and seven points in the last three games, veteran center Brad Richards was voted the NHL’s second star of last week. Before a two-point effort in Thursday’s win over the Panthers, Richards was held off the score sheet in four straight contests. In the Rangers’ 8-4 win over the Sabres on Friday, the 32-year-old alternate captain notched his first hat trick in 896 career games.
Offensive outburst: It wasn’t long ago that the Blueshirts’ anemic offense left them dead last in goals per game, but the past few weeks have signaled a stark turnaround. The club has tallied 42 goals so far in the month of April.
Last time around: The Rangers and Panthers last met at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, a 6-1 rout by New York that sparked the team and bolstered the club’s confidence. Both Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello notched a pair of goals, and Richards finished with a goal and an assist.
Elsewhere in the NHL: There’s a big game brewing in D.C. as the Washington Capitals host the surging Jets in a Southeast Division battle with playoff implications aplenty. A non-shootout win by the Capitals would clinch the division title, while a Jets win would keep Winnipeg in the hunt for the coveted No. 3 seed. Whichever team does not secure the title will be in a four-way battle for the last three remaining playoff spots with the Islanders, Rangers and Senators.