Could Panthers-Rangers contest be a playoff preview?

The two games this month between the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers might be a preview of a playoff duel almost 30 years in the making.

The Rangers and Panthers had their lone playoff clash in the spring of 1997, when New York eliminated Florida — the defending Eastern Conference champion — in a five-game first-round series.

Now, two of the NHL’s hottest teams will meet Monday night when the Panthers visit the Rangers in a battle of Eastern Conference division leaders.

Both teams were off Sunday after playing Saturday, when the visiting Panthers blanked the Detroit Red Wings 4-0 and the Rangers fell to the host Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in a shootout.

The win was the fourth straight for the Panthers, who took over sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division by virtue of the Boston Bruins’ 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders. Florida is 14-2-0 since Jan. 22, a span in which it has made up a seven-point deficit in the Atlantic Division.

The Panthers have earned six comeback wins in that stretch but didn’t need to play from behind Saturday, when defenseman Brandon Montour collected three points and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stopped all 21 shots he faced against Detroit as Florida began a key three-game road trip against a trio of contenders.

After visiting the Rangers, Florida faces the New Jersey Devils, who are eight points behind the Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning in the race for the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots.

“This is the start of a road trip and that’s a good team over there,” said Montour, who has eight points in his last four games. “There’s a chance we might see (Detroit) again come playoff time, so we wanted to bring a good effort.”

The Panthers are slated to visit the Rangers twice this month as the division leaders vie to establish themselves as the Eastern Conference favorites. Florida’s 28 points since Jan. 22 are the most in the NHL, followed by New York’s 24 points (tied with Toronto).

The Rangers squandered a pair of one-goal leads Saturday and lost for just the second time in 13 games (11-1-1). That stretch includes a 10-game winning streak from Jan. 27-Feb. 24, which tied a franchise record set during the 1939-40 and 1972-73 seasons.

The Rangers overcame deficits in five of the wins during their record-tying streak and nearly did the same Saturday, when they played the first of 13 straight games against teams currently occupying a playoff spot or within 10 points of a wild-card berth. That stretch includes a rematch with Florida in New York on March 23.

“The whole regulation was hard-fought playoff-style hockey,” said Rangers center Vincent Trocheck, who scored twice against Toronto, including the game-tying goal with 1:07 left in the third. “So you’ve got to expect (that for) this last quarter of the season and into the playoffs. And we’ll get ready for that kind of hockey.”