Posted November 22, 2011 on AP on Fox
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The Florida Panthers have been one of the surprises during the first quarter of the season, leading the Southeast Division after a major offseason overhaul. Kris Versteeg has been one of the key newcomers, and he'll look to stay hot against the New York Rangers on Wednesday night at the BankAtlantic Center. Versteeg, acquired via trade from Philadelphia on July 1, scored twice in Florida's 4-3 win over New Jersey on Monday and is among the league leaders with 25 points. He is already halfway to his career high of 22 goals set in 2008-09 with Chicago, and he has six goals and six assists over his last 12 games. The Panthers (11-6-3) trailed 3-0 after the first period, but Versteeg's two second-period goals and a tally from Stephen Weiss midway through the third period helped tie the game before Tomas Fleischmann - signed after finishing 2010-11 with Colorado - scored the game-winner with 2:03 remaining. ''We found a way to win,'' said Versteeg, who has only one goal and one assist in 10 career games versus the Rangers. ''We're going to have to be happy about that and just let the game go and come back on an even keel (Wednesday).'' Brian Campbell - acquired in a trade from Chicago - is second among defensemen with 16 assists and goaltender Jose Theodore made 22 saves Monday to win his second consecutive start. Theodore also has won back-to-back starts against the Rangers, stopping 70 of 71 shots in those victories. He shut them out March 6, 2010, with Washington, then made 40 saves in a 3-1 win March 3 with Minnesota. Florida, though, has had some recent troubles with New York, which had its seven-game winning streak snapped in a 4-0 loss to Montreal on Saturday. The Rangers (10-4-3) have won five of seven meetings against the Panthers and are 4-1-1 in their last six at Florida. Henrik Lundqvist, who had the night off Saturday, is 5-1-0 with a 1.16 goals-against average in his last six starts against the Panthers. Backup Martin Biron lost his first start of the season despite 27 saves Saturday, but coach John Tortorella placed the blame on an offense that was shut out for the first time since a 2-0 loss to Edmonton on Oct. 22. ''Don't look at our goalie, I'll tell you that,'' Tortorella said. ''Our whole crew in front of him never had the puck and we were chasing the game. We never caught up to it.'' New York hopes to bounce back against a Florida team seeking its first three-game home winning streak since Jan. 11-15. The Panthers are 2-0-0 on their current four-game homestand after dropping five of seven there to start the season. "I think what happened was over a 20-game span, you learn a little bit about your people and about your team," first-year coach Kevin Dineen said. "We certainly have made some entertaining nights at the BankAtlantic and (Monday) will certainly fit right in with that." Fleischmann has five goals and five assists during a seven-game home point streak.
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