In a battle of teams that are somehow still in playoff contention, the Florida Panthers play host to the Atlanta Thrashers tonight in a game that allows the winner a chance to get that much closer to a playoff spot. The Thrashers who are second, and the Panthers who are third in the Southworsteast division, certainly have no expectations of catching the Washington Capitals, but seem to be hanging on in the conference. Atlanta is one point behind the Montreal Canadiens and the Panthers are two points behind Montreal in a tight battle for the last playoff spot.
Atlanta comes to town winning three of their last five games and are on a seven game stretch of playing teams that are not in a playoff position. Having their own trouble hanging on to leads in the game, Atlanta is coming off a 5-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night in which they too blew a two goal lead in the third period. Ilya Kovalchuk however saved the day as he usually does for Atlanta.
Kovalchuk is hot for Atlanta as he has six points in his last three games getting 3 goals and 3 assists in that time. Still the Thrashers are bothered by his contract status which has yet to be determined. While Kovalchuk seems to carry on, it will be interesting to see if Atlanta is able to reach a deal with the superstar winger. If they can’t sign him, he will be the third player that they will have lost because they were not able to agree to terms with. Marion Hossa, and Dany Heatley were the others, although there were other circumstances in the Heatley situation. Like Florida losing and or giving away players like Luongo (good riddance), Jokinen, and Jay Bouwmeester, this would be a deadly blow to the Atlanta franshise if they are unable to keep him. I’ve said before, he would look great in a Panther sweater, but I don’t think that ownership/management would have the foresight or willingness to make a deal for him.
Defenceman Tobias Enstrom has an eight game point streak going and forward Jim Slater has a six game point streak for himself. Max Afinogenov has put together a pretty good year so far after a slow start. He’s second in scoring with Atlanta with 41 points on 16 goals and 25 assists.
Atlanta has won two of three against Florida this season, however lost the last game when Panther forward Michael Frolik scored with just under two minutes to play in regulation.
Florida comes into this game on a two game winning streak after beating Tampa in a home and home matchup, prior to losing to a pissed off Washington Capitals team where the Panthers were leading 4-1. Nathan Horton continues to play well and has 17 points in his last 15 games. Rusty and Cory Stillman also have picked up their game lately and seem to have re-energized themselves on the second line with Steven Reinprecht.
Stevie Wonder who sat out most of the second and all of the third period in Saturday night’s game with a nagging lower body injury (yeast infection), is not expected to play tonight either. Jeff Taffe and Shawn Matthias have been recalled from Rochester. Stevie leads the Panthers in goals with 19, however has scored only once in the past ten games. Tomas Vokoun who has won 4 of his last 6 starts including a 47 save performance Saturday night against Tampa, would be the expected starter in goal for Florida tonight.
Another must win for Florida, and as always against an Eastern Conference team, needs to happen in regulation as they can’t afford to give away a point. This one copuld be high scoring without alot of defence being played. Someone’s going to win 6-4 I have a feeling.
Thanks for reading.