Rangers visit Panthers in Winter Classic tuneup

The New York Rangers have one game left before Monday's Winter Classic and they'll try to use that opportunity to get back in the win column when they visit the Florida Panthers tonight at BankAtlantic Center.

The Rangers had won five straight before beginning a three-game road trip with a 4-1 setback in Washington. It was just the fourth regulation loss in the last 17 games (12-4-1) for New York, which is tied with Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division. The loss also allowed Boston to leap past the Blueshirts for the top seed in the East.

Tomas Vokoun turned aside 31 shots to backstop the Capitals to the home win over the Rangers. Brandon Dubinsky scored the lone goal for the Rangers, while No. 2 goaltender Martin Biron was tagged for all four goals on just 23 shots in the loss.

"We made some brain dead plays at our blue line that led to a couple of their goals tonight," said New York head coach John Tortorella. "They're an opportunistic team and like to score goals. They did that and had all the momentum."

Wednesday's loss marked the start of a three-game road trip that will end with Monday's outdoor game at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. It will be the first Winter Classic appearance for the Rangers, who are 11-6-2 as the road team this season.

In injury news, the Rangers are hoping defenseman Marc Staal can make his season debut in the Winter Classic after sitting out the entire season so far with a concussion. Staal was cleared to skate in contact drills earlier this week and he could be ready to go for Monday's game at Citizens Bank Park.

Staal had seven goals and 22 assists in 77 games last year while leading the Rangers in ice time.

The Panthers, who lead the Southeast by four points over Winnipeg, ended a three-game slide with Tuesday's win over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. The 5-3 victory marked a big improvement from Florida's 8-0 loss in Boston on Friday.

Former Maple Leaf Kris Versteeg and Jason Garrison each scored a power-play goal to help lift the Panthers to the win over Toronto.

Erik Gudbranson, Tomas Fleischmann and Bill Thomas also lit the lamp for Florida, while Brian Campbell tallied three assists and Jose Theodore stopped 29-of-32 shots.

"I think that's what we were really looking for. They are a really good hockey team. We're so respectful of the talent and that's not just blabber after the game," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said.

Versteeg continued his terrific season with his team-leading 17th goal of the season. He is also pacing the Panthers with 38 points in 36 games after recording 46 points in 80 games last year with Philadelphia and Toronto.

Panthers forwards Mikael Samuelsson (back) and Stephen Weiss (upper body) are questionable for tonight's game. Samuelsson has sat out the last three games, while Weiss has missed two in a row.

Florida posted a 2-1 home win over the Rangers on Nov. 23, but New York exacted revenge with a 6-1 triumph on Dec. 11 in the Big Apple. Derek Stepan had two goals and an assist for New York in the last meeting.

The Rangers have taken two of three and six of the last nine encounters in this series overall, but Florida has won the last two meetings in Sunrise.

The Panthers are 9-3-5 as the home team this season and are playing the middle test of a three-game residency tonight. The homestand will end tomorrow against Montreal.