FLORIDA PANTHERS: 20-12-7 (47 PTS.) vs. NEW YORK RANGERS: 24-9-4 (52 PTS.).
GAME TIME: 7:00 P.M. EASTERN
OPPOSITION SITE: BLUE LINE STATION
After a few days of rest and relaxation away from the games, with only practices, the Florida Panthers start the first of two quick road games tonight against the New York Rangers. Coming off their New Year’s Eve home victory against the Montreal Canadiens, the Panthers will be looking to expand their shrinking lead over both the Washington Capitals (three points) and Winnipeg Jets (four points). If you’re scoreboard watching the Caps are off tonight while the Jets visit the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Panthers who are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games will be looking to get on a hot streak with a favorable schedule over the next 10 days. With only four games scheduled during that time, Florida will also have the opportunity for some of it’s injured players to get better. Mikael Samuelsson, and Marcel Goc appear to be close as they have been practicing with the team lately (in non contact jerseys), but other players like Marco Sturm, Jack Skille, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and the recently injured Jose Theodore are still not near returning. Getting any of those players back soon will be a positive for the Panthers who despite the rash of injuries have held on to a first place lead in the Southeast division.
Scott Clemmensen will get tonight’s start in New York, and will look to reverse his performance from December 3oth when he gave up three goals on 11 shots and was pulled in favor of Theodore. The following night against Montreal, Theodore was involved in a goal crease tumble when defenseman Dmitry Kulikov accidently knocked Theo over, injuring the veteran netminder’s knee. It’s expected that Theodore will be out about two weeks, and Jacob Markstrom has been recalled from San Antonio to share the duties with Clemmensen and could see action tomorrow against the New Jersey Devils.
Tomas Fleischmann who had been going through a bit of a cold streak seems to be back on track again after a solid performance against Montreal, and now has three points in his last three games. Erik Gudbranson who has been playing some improved hockey lately has two points in his last three games. The young defenceman has been getting more ice time as the year has progressed, and has been applying himself a bit more in certain situations. He has been on a short leash (for lack of a better term), but with each game he’s played recently, that leash is being loosened. As an observer I would say that the Panthers and coach Kevin Dineen are bringing Gudbranson along slowly, and while that may give some the impression that he’s not playing well, it’s really in everyone’s best interest. Remember he’s only 19, and has a very promising career in front of him.
The Panthers will be without Krys Barch tonight as he serves a one game suspension for comments made during the Montreal game on New Years eve. It’s a very touchy subject but as Stephen Weiss says, the team is behind him:
“You know what, he’s been around,” Panthers forward Stephen Weiss said. “Certainly we’ve chatted a bit. I’ll keep that stuff private. But he’s a veteran guy. He knows how to handle that type of stuff. No one’s feeling worse than him. He feels terrible about the misunderstanding, but he’ll get through it and we’ll help him get through it as a team.”
In case you missed it, veteran John Madden was signed yesterday after about 10 days of speculation and is with the club on the trip. Not sure exactly when he plays, although New Jersey on Friday could be on his radar. His contract is valued at $600,000, however at this time of year the Panthers are responsible for half. When Madden gets into the lineup and plays the way he can, that deal could be the bargain of the decade.
The New York Rangers will be coming off an emotionally charged win on Monday in the Winter Classic over the Philadelphia Flyers. A game that started out as a bit of a sleeper, eventually ramped itself up and provided some quality hockey for all to see. Mike Rupp was the star of the game with two goals, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves for the win, including stopping Danny Briere on a penalty shot in the closing seconds of the game.
That penalty shot, and some other calls drew the rath of Rangers coach John Tortorella who made his feelings known as he usually does. Tortorella was handed a $30,000 fine for expressing himself. We all wait with baited breathe to see if the comments will be included in the final episode of the HBO 24/7 special, which airs tonight.
The Rangers and their dangerous offence will have to be stopped by the Panthers both at even strength as well as the power play if Florida has any chance of winning this game. If the Panthers were perfectly healthy this could be viewed as a fairly even matchup, however with the injuries the Cats have, the players in tonight’s lineup will have to dig very deep and keep mistakes to a bare minimum. There’s no reason to believe that can’t happen provided that everyone is on the same page. Kevin Dineen has done a masterful job with this Panthers team so far, and this is a game that Florida should have no problem being “up” for.
Finally, it will be curious to see if the incidents from the ending of the last match between these two clubs carryover to this game. You all remember that Tomas Kopecky landed a
sucker punch that caught Michael Del Zotto by surprise, which of course came after TomKop almost had his head removed by Del Zotto’s stick. The situation became involved as Mike Rupp from the Rangers stepped in, along with Krys Barch from Florida. Barch made a threat of retaliation tonight, which is obviously not happening due to his one game suspension. Keep your heads in the game, and on straight tonight boys.
* This will be the fourth and final meeting of the regular season with New York leading 2-1 and outscoring Florida 11-4.
* The Rangers have won seven of the last 10 meetings between the two teams, outscoring Florida 28-14.
* Ranger coach John Tortorella currently ranks first in wins among U.S. born coaches with 357 victories.
* The Panthers have lost 148 man games to injury.
* Jason Garrison has matched his career high point total (11-7-18) after only 39 games.
* The Panthers have been in first place in the Southeast division for 47 consecutive days, 50 overall.
* With his next assist Stephen Weiss will be the all-time leader in that category for the Panthers.
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