Panthers-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

The New York Rangers are rolling after a rocky start and insist they're not overlooking a Florida Panthers squad reeling from eight straight losses.

The Rangers will try to continue their impressive turnaround when they host the Panthers on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

New York (8-8-0) opened the season with six losses in its first eight games, surrendering an average of 3.9 goals, but has bounced back by winning six of eight while yielding 1.5 goals per game.

The Rangers evened their record with Thursday's 4-2 win at Columbus, one day after routing Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh 5-1.

"We want to play better than we have," said left wing Carl Hagelin, who scored twice against the Blue Jackets and has four goals and two assists in the past four games. "We know we should be .500 at least. It's good to be there; now we've just got to start climbing."

A favorable two-game stretch should help. The Rangers' next two opponents - they host New Jersey on Tuesday - are a combined 7-17-9 heading into Sunday. The Panthers (3-10-4) are also in transition after coach Kevin Dineen was fired Friday morning.

Still, New York isn't taking any opponent for granted, despite the Panthers and Devils being among the worst scoring teams in the NHL. The only team trailing Florida in the standings is league-worst Buffalo (7).

"There's no easy games," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "Every night you play, it doesn't matter if you play a top team or a team that's struggling, they're always going to come out hard and if you give them something to fight for, they're going to try to get it.

"Especially when you play a team struggling. If they get a sniff, if they get a couple good bounces and start feeling good about themselves, it's going to be a tough night."

Lundqvist will likely be back in net after Cam Talbot made 32 saves against Columbus. Lundqvist has won three of his last four starts - all of them coming at MSG - with a 1.01 goals-against average and one shutout.

He owns a 1.70 GAA and four shutouts while going 8-6-0 in 14 career meetings with Florida at home, winning three of the last four while stopping 97 of 101 shots.

Captain Ryan Callahan has two goals and two assists in three games since missing seven because of a broken thumb. The right wing is averaging a point over his last six home meetings with the Panthers.

Florida enters Sunday's contest on its longest slide since dropping 10 straight from March 19-April 8, 2011. The Panthers got closer to matching that dubious mark with Saturday's 3-2 loss at Ottawa in interim coach Peter Horachek's debut behind the bench.

"What you hopefully are going to create is an attitude about work," Horachek said. "When there are changes, people hesitate.

"You know, they're not playing the way they need to, just reacting instead of thinking, and so you add a little bit each time and hopefully you're going to continue that and get them to a place where the work is fun and the work is solid and consistent."

The only consistency has been negative for the Panthers, who own the worst power play in the NHL at an 8.5-percent success rate. They've gone 1 for 25 with the advantage during the losing streak, scoring only 14 goals.

Tomas Fleischmann leads Florida with 11 points, but he's come up empty and was a minus-5 over the last two games. He had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 home win over the Rangers on April 23, but doesn't have a point on his last five visits to the Garden.

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