The New York Rangers appear to be peaking at the right time, and a ticket to the postseason isn't very far away.
The Rangers look for a season high-tying fourth straight victory and ninth in 12 games Tuesday night when they visit the Florida Panthers, losers of six in a row.
If ninth-place Winnipeg loses in regulation at Buffalo on Monday night, New York (24-17-4) will wrap up its third straight postseason appearance with a victory over the Panthers. Regardless of what happens Monday, the Rangers could still clinch a berth Tuesday depending on the result of this game and Winnipeg's visit to Washington.
The Rangers are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference but have a chance to climb as high as fifth.
New York continued its drive toward the playoffs with a 4-1 win over New Jersey on Sunday behind Ryan Callahan's two goals and Henrik Lundqvist's 26 saves.
Derek Stepan also scored, giving him six goals and nine assists this month as the Rangers have gone 8-2-1.
"We're playing our best hockey we've played all year," said Callahan, who has six points over the past four games. "Now is the time to do that. We've been playing playoff-style hockey the last couple of games. These are must-wins for us. It gives us a dress rehearsal for the playoffs."
Lundqvist has certainly looked playoff-ready. He's 8-2-1 with a 1.79 goals-against average while starting each of the past 11 games.
"It's like the playoffs have been going on for a couple of weeks," Lundqvist said. "It's fun to be out there. I don't want to sit on the bench."
He's won eight of his last 11 starts with a 1.27 GAA against the Panthers (13-26-6), who have scored a league-low 101 goals.
Florida has been outscored 30-8 during its six-game losing streak and is coming off a 3-0 defeat at Boston on Sunday.
"There was enough try to give us an opportunity to be very competitive in this game," said coach Kevin Dineen, whose Panthers have an NHL-low 32 points. "At the end of it, you have to find a way with what we have to try to create some kind of offense."
Making matters worse, leading goal scorer Tomas Kopecky missed Sunday's contest and is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
One day after allowing six straight goals in a 6-2 loss at New Jersey, Jacob Markstrom gave up two to the Bruins as he made 36 saves but suffered his sixth straight loss. Markstrom had 44 saves in his only career start versus the Rangers, a 3-1 road win March 21.
Lundqvist lost that game but came back to make 34 saves in a 6-1 home victory over Florida on Thursday. Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello each scored twice against Panthers backup Scott Clemmensen, who has dropped five consecutive starts to the Rangers while posting a 4.25 GAA.
Rick Nash had a goal and two assists in last week's meeting, and the Rangers are 12-3-1 when he scores.
New York has won four of five against the Panthers.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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