Rangers host Panthers in matchup of streaking clubs

(SportsNetwork.com) - It's not easy being a backup goaltender in the NHL, but Cam Talbot and Dan Ellis have helped keep their teams in the thick of heated playoff races.

Talbot and the New York Rangers seek a fifth victory in a row on Sunday evening when they host Ellis and the Florida Panthers.

For the Rangers, they lead the Metropolitan Division despite star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist having not played since Feb. 2 versus Florida due to a vascular injury stemming from getting hit by a puck in the throat days earlier. Talbot has been phenomenal in replacing Lundqvist and has gone 16-6-4 in 28 total games this season with a 2.23 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Talbot did get the night off on Saturday, with MacKenzie Skapski making 20 saves to shut out the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 in his second career start. The 20- year-old rookie had turned aside 24-of-25 shots faced to win his NHL debut against those same Sabres on Feb. 20.

"I don't think you could script it any better," Skapski said. "Our defense and our forwards were excellent as always. We have a very underrated offensive- defensive team. That's what makes us the best team in the NHL right now."

Talbot started each of the nine games in between Skapski's outings and went 7-1-1 in that span. New York is 13-1-2 over its past 16 games overall and leads the New York Islanders by three points for the top spot in the division with four games in hand.

The Isles are idle on Sunday.

Defenseman Keith Yandle scored his first goal with the Rangers, snapping a scoreless deadlock 7:31 into the third period, and Martin St. Louis added an empty-net goal.

Talbot expects to start against the Panthers today for the first time in his career and Florida will try to cool him off and win its fourth game in a row.

Ellis has been in net for each of the last three wins and made his fourth start on Saturday since both Roberto Luongo (sprained right shoulder) and Al Montoya (groin) were hurt in the same game on March 3 versus Toronto.

Ellis posted 27 saves to blank the hosting Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night, notching his first shutout of the season with the 2-0 decision. Brandon Pirri scored in the second period for the game-winner and Dave Bolland scored into an empty net.

"My career has gone all over the place," said Ellis, who notched his 15th career shutout. "I've played for a lot of teams. I've been up, I've been down. But I'm here right now. That's what I have to focus on, and I am enjoying it right now. Anything you can do to help a team get into the playoffs, it's a special time of year to get into games."

Florida is 5-1-1 in its past seven games and trails both Boston and Washington by six points for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins and Capitals square off in Washington on Sunday night.

Though Ellis is on a great run, Luongo may be ready to return to the lineup today. He is 7-13-1 with a 2.93 GAA and .912 save percentage lifetime versus the Rangers.

The Blueshirts have won five in a row and nine of their last 11 meetings with the Panthers, taking three straight and six of the last seven played in New York.