W2W4: Rangers vs. Panthers

The Rangers host the lowly Panthers tonight at Madison Square Garden. Here are some things to watch for as the Blue Shirts go for their fifth straight win.

STAAL OUT, McDONAGH IN: Defenseman Marc Staal will miss his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. Rangers coach John Tortorella said that Staal could not play, compared to erring on the side of caution, and the defenseman is day-to-day. Staal first missed Sunday’s 5-2 win against Pittsburgh and missed three games from Feb. 25 to March 1 with a knee injury.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh will play tonight after being hit in the head with an elbow from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke, who was suspended for 10 games and the first round of the playoffs following the hit. Tortorella declined to comment on the suspension.

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: Currently six points head of ninth-place Carolina, the Rangers can almost assure themselves of a playoff spot with a sweep of this two-game home stand against inferior opponents. Tonight, the Rangers face the Panthers, who are in 13th place with 68 points, before taking on last-place Ottawa Thursday night. If the Rangers take care of business like they should, they should put themselves in a very comfortable position heading into their final seven games of the season.

Tortorella said he is not thinking about the playoffs as this point and hopes his team is ready for tonight’s opponent.

“We need to be ready,” Tortorella said about tonight’s game. “As we have been in the past couple, we need a good start here against a team’s playing loose and will be a dangerous hockey club.

EXPLOSION ON O: As the Rangers have won six of their past seven games, it’s pretty easy to find a reason why: they’ve scored in bunches. After losing three straight from Feb. 27 to March 3 in which they scored a total of four goals, the Rangers have scored 33 goals in its last seven, including 31 goals in the six victories. The Blue Shirts have not scored less than two goals in any of the games, including five or more in the last three wins.

“It’s happening at a good time for us right now, hopefully we can continue,” Tortorella said. “We have to play defense first and hopefully we’ll keep banging in some pucks here at key times.”