At a glance: Coming off Tuesday’s worrisome 4-2 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia, the Rangers brace for a critical back-to-back set that begins Thursday at home against the Florida Panthers and concludes Friday night with a road match against the Buffalo Sabres. With a loose grip on eighth place in the Eastern Conference, the Blueshirts need to capitalize against a pair of weak opponents. Florida is dead last in the East, while a stubborn 10th-place Sabres squad remains in the hunt, trailing the Rangers by a mere two points in the standings.
Watch out for Winnipeg: As the Rangers try to protect their spot among the top eight playoff teams, Winnipeg is threatening to pass them with a win over Carolina Thursday. Both teams are tied with 46 points, though the Rangers have a game in hand. The Jets hold the second tie-breaker however, with three more regulation or overtime wins (20) than the Rangers (17) heading into Thursday’s action.
Back for more: After shuttling between the big club and the Connecticut Whale several times this season, Chris Kreider is back with the Rangers again in wake of an injury to beleaguered forward Brian Boyle. Kreider, recalled Wednesday, has struggled to create a defined role. The 21-year-old winger, who was a stunning success during his NHL debut in the playoffs last spring, has been limited to two goals and one assist in 17 games.
Stepan shaken up: It is assumed that Derek Stepan will play Thursday, though he missed practice Wednesday less than 24 hours after taking a questionable hit in the third period of the Rangers' loss to the Flyers. Stepan also did not skate Thursday during the team’s optional morning skate, but only five players and one goaltender participated.
Slumping to finish line: Instead of relishing their roles as spoilers as the end of the season nears, the Panthers appear to be cooked. Florida has dropped three straight games; most recently, a 5-2 loss to the Islanders on Tuesday.