NEW YORK (SportsDirect Inc.) — With a firm hold on the first wild card in the Eastern Conference, the New York Rangers still have their sights set on one of the top three spots in the Metropolitan Division.
New York will need to reverse its fortunes at home to have a chance, however, and looks to begin the turnaround against the Florida Panthers on Friday.
The Rangers, who trail Pittsburgh by five points for third in the division and are eight behind first-place Washington, have lost five in a row at Madison Square Garden (0-4-1) since edging the Capitals 2-1 on Feb. 19 for their fifth straight home victory and are 19-15-2 in their own building with five games remaining as opposed to 25-9-0 on the road.
Florida’s quest for the postseason took a hit Thursday as it suffered a 2-1 setback at Columbus to fall seven points behind Toronto for the second wild-card spot in the East with 13 games remaining.
Jonathan Marchessault overtook Vincent Trocheck for the team lead by scoring his 23rd goal for the Panthers, who have lost nine of their last 11 contests (2-8-1).
One of those defeats was a 5-2 home loss on March 7 to the Rangers, who dropped a 3-2 decision in a shootout to Florida on Nov. 20 in New York.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NHL Network, TVAS, FSN Florida, MSG (New York)
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (30-28-11): Former Ranger Jaromir Jagr will inch closer to a milestone Friday, moving within one game of becoming just the fourth player in NHL history to appear in 1,700 contests. The 45-year-old Czech, who is second in career points (1,905) and third in goals (763), will join Gordie Howe (1,767 games), Mark Messier (1,756) and Ron Francis (1,731) in the elite club. Thomas Vanek has been one of the few bright spots for Florida of late, recording a goal and five assists over seven contests since being acquired from Detroit.
ABOUT THE RANGERS (44-24-2): Brandon Pirri, who has gone six games without landing on the scoresheet, has been a healthy scratch for each of New York’s last two contests. The 25-year-old right wing, who recorded a career-high 22 goals with Florida in 2014-15, is two points shy of 100 for his career. Michael Grabner ended his 10-game goal-scoring drought in Monday’s home loss to Tampa Bay with his 27th of the season, passing Chris Kreider for the team lead.
1. Rangers RW Jesper Fast is expected to return to the lineup Friday after missing seven games with an upper-body injury.
2. Marchessault has registered four goals and an assist over his last four contests.
3. New York recalled G Magnus Hellberg from Hartford of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis.