Clem Stops Bergeron. Source: Joel Auerbach: Getty Images, Zimbio.com

Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Bruins. Showdown In BeanTown


 FLORIDA PANTHERS: 15-8-4 (34 PTS.) vs. BOSTON BRUINS: 17-8-1 (35 PTS.)

GAME TIME: 7:00 P.M.

OPPOSITION SITE: CAUSEWAY CROWD

TSN GAMEDAY

The Florida Panthers head into Boston for an Eastern Conference matchup against a team that will once again test their resolve.  While it’s only early December, it appears that it’s another game that has everyone asking “Are the Panthers for real”?  Hard to avoid the questions and the uncertainty after a decade of not making the playoffs, however this year’s version appears to be changing the minds of many NHL fans and even experts. 

I’m not sure how many “statement” games you can have this early in the season, but playing the top ranked Boston Bruins surely ranks up there as a test.  Brian Campbell a veteran of many NHL seasons has downplayed all the attention on all these alleged big games:

“I think everybody uses them as a measuring stick,” Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. “They’re the best team in the league. We want to try to get up to that level. It’ll be a good challenge for us. I think we see them three times [over the next] month, so it’s a big game for us.”

The Panthers will begin this three game road trip against the Bruins tonight which also sees them playing three games in four nights as once again the NHL “travel friendly” schedule strikes.  The good news is that it appears forward Mikael Samuelsson will make his debut for the Panthers after recovering from his sports hernia injury dating back to last May.  Samuelsson will provide some much needed scoring depth, and skill both at even strength as well as on the power play.

The FlashMob Line combined for four points in Monday’s game against Washington as Stephen Weiss led the way with two goals and an assist.  Weiss has six points in his last two games and is on pace for 87 for the season.  Tomas Fleischmann continues his output with four points in his last two games, and Kris Versteeg is tied with Flash for the team lead in goals with 12.  The trio has also combined for 12 power play goals, showing that they have the ability to score when it counts.

Finally we seem to be seeing scoring from some of the other nine forwards as Sean Bergenheim has picked up the pace a bit, along with Mike Santorelli and Jack Skille chipping in.  If Florida can maintain balance in this area as they have shown in recent games, they won’t be referred to as a one line team.   Defensively speaking it’s been nice seeing the blueliners push the play and contribute more to the scoring.  We know Jason “Boom Boom” Garrison has been utilizing his slap shot more, it’s also been good to see Dmitry Kulikov chip in as well, as Kevin Dineen has all skaters pushing the puck up ice to create scoring chances.  That style along with a more intense and aggressive forecheck has made all the difference in the world in how the Panthers are winning games.

Expect to see Jose Theodore get the start in goal tonight which will be game number 600 for the veteran netminder who’s been nothing short of excellent this season.  In his last nine starts against the Bruins Theo is 8-0-1 with a 1.77 GAA.

The Bruins are coming off a 2-1 loss on Tuesday at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, which was their first regulation loss in 14 games.  After a lousy start to the season, which many blamed the infamous “Stanley Cup Hangover” on, the Bruins have taken 29 of the last 30 possible points in their games to put themselves in the second spot in the Eastern Conference.  In that Winnipeg game Shawn Thornton scored the only goal despite the Bruins putting 40 shots on net against Ondrej Pavelic.  Missing from the Boston lineup that night was sophomore Tyler Seguin, who overslept and missed a team breakfast.  He’s expected to be back in the lineup tonight.

It was a back to back game for the Bruins after beating Pittsburgh 3-1 on Monday, but Thornton himself wasn’t blaming fatigue as the reason for the loss:

“That’s all mental as far as I’m concerned,” Thornton said. “I think it’s pretty easy to get through as long as you’re strong mentally.”

Seguin leads the Bruins in goals with 13 and points with 25, but the scoring doesn’t stop with the youngster.  Milan Lucic and Chris Kelly each have 10 goals and gritty Brad Marchand has nine, giving the Bruins scoring from all lines.  This is a team that is dangerous all the way around, and falling behind early will have to be avoided, as the Bruins can put teams away easily with their bruising style of play.

Boston’s offence as we’ll see is well balanced and similar to the Panthers will force the play up ice.  The Bruins have taken 30 or more shots in 18 of 26 games, and 40 or more shots six times this season.  They have also scored two goals in 30 seconds or less six times, and two goals within a minute nine times.  Objective for Florida is to slow the game down for Boston if and when they score.  Those are the kind of stats that can swing the game very easily.

Scoring for the Panthers won’t be easy especially with Tim Thomas in goal.  Thomas is 10-0-0 with a 1.69 GAA since November 1st, and is 5-0-1 in his last six starts against the Panthers.  Between Thomas and backup Tuukka Rask, the Bruins netminders have combined for a league low 2.04 GAA.  The Panthers will be looking to change their recent history against Boston as the Bruins are 7-1-1 against Florida and have outscored the Panthers 11-4 in the last four meetings.

 Nerdy Stats:

* The Bruins recent streak of 14-0-1 was their best since 1983 when they went 15-0-2.

* The Bruins are 8-0-1 in their last nine home games.

* Tim Thomas is the first Bruins goaltender to win 10 games in a row since Andy Moog did in 1983.  The longest streak of 17 is held by Gilles Gilbert in 1976.

* David Kreci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton have combined for 13 points in the last four games.

* The Bruins have allowed one power play goal in the last six games, spanning 21 chances against.

* Tyler Seguin will play in his 100th NHL game tonight.

* Mike Santorelli and Dmitry Kulikov are both one point away from 50 in their careers.

* The Panthers lead the series 30-26-6-5.

* The Panthers defence is tied with Vancouver for most points with 72.

Connections:

* Nathan Horton drafted third overall in 2003 played six seasons for the Panthers scoring 142 goals with 153 assists.  He was the first player Dale Tallon traded.

* Dennis Seidenberg played 62 games for the Panthers before being traded to Boston for some guy named Byron Bitz.

* Gregory Campbell was featured today in my Ex-Panther Factor.

* Marco Sturm played five seasons in Boston scoring 106 times with 87 assists.

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Tags: Boston Bruins Brian Campbell Florida Panthers Gregory Campbell Marco Sturm Nathan Horton Showdown In Beantown Tim Thomas