CAROLINA HURRICANES: 26-27-15 (67 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 31-23-13 (75 PTS.)
OPPOSITION SITE: CARDIAC CANE
GAME DAY SONG: ROAD LEADS WHERE IT’S LED BY SECRET MACHINES
The Florida Panthers begin a four game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes that finds them playing every other night this week. Kind of like the playoffs will be should they qualify. Returning to South Florida from a short swing in Pennsyvannia, the Panthers played two games that were nowhere near the same, yet somehow were able to salvage a hard earned point out from the trip. The team that played in Philadelphia Thursday wasn’t ready to play. The team that played Friday in Pittsburgh was, yet could only solve Marc-Andre Fleury once. This four game homestand with a possible eight points up for grabs gives Florida a chance to create some distance on their divisional lead. Kevin Dineen the head coach of the Panthers is looking for more:
“It’s disappointing not coming out with two points, that would have been nice,” said Dineen, whose team tallied only Fleischmann’s goal during a brief road swing to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. “We are looking for more consistency in our effort game to game.”
The Panthers have lost four of their last five, and have been outscored 19-6 in those games. They’ve scored once in the previous six periods of hockey, and that is not acceptable. It’s clear that the absence of Kris Versteeg the team’s leading goal scorer and spark plug has hindered their performance. It’s also clear that other players who are expected to pick up the slack, have not. The Panthers still sit in first place in the Southeast division, and today is the 100th day they’ve held that spot. They should consider themselves lucky, since as they have struggled, both Washington and Winnipeg have struggled as well. Something has to give, and this homestand gives them the chance to create separation.
The Panthers are 3-0 against Carolina this season with the last victory a come from behind one as Florida tied the game at two in the third period, and Stephen Weiss scored the game winner in the shootout. The good thing is that the Panthers are rested with an off day yesterday, and Carolina is playing for the second consecutive night after playing Tampa last night. The Canes are 3-6-3 in the second game of back to backs, and also happen to be 3-15 in overtime which includes no wins and six losses in the shootout. The Panthers who held an optional skate Saturday hope to strike first and control the game by scoring first, and catching the Carolina on their heels. The good news for the Panthers is that Jose Theodore has been terrific in net for all three games this season and is 3-0 with a 1.59 GAA. Florida is also 8-2-2 at home against Carolina since December 20 2007.
The Hurricanes are fresh off a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. They’ve picked up points in 8 of their past 10 games, and seem to have found their rythmn. Something that seems to happen with this team on a yearly basis. Slow and inconsistent starts, followed by a mad dash towards the playoffs. Early in the season they were headed to the bottom of the conference. Now they are only 8 points behind the Panthers in the conference standings. A tough hill to climb, but they are playing their best hockey of the season.
Cam Ward won his 199th game last night in goal and if he gets the chance for number 200 tonight, he’ll need to sharpen his game slightly. He’s lost three of the last four games he’s played against the Panthers and his GAA is 2.47 in those games.
Jeff Skinner may have broken out of a slump with two goals against Tampa last night. Prior to that Skinner had one goal in his previous nine games. In three games at the Bank Atlantic Center in his career Skinner has two goals and three assists.
Returning from injury last night after missing 10 games was forward Tuomo Ruutu. The rugged winger was out with a lower body injury he suffered just after he signed a contract extension that will keep him in Carolina another four seasons. However Jiri Tlusty could be out of the lineup tonight after leaving the Tampa game on Saturday with an undisclosed upper body injury. Tlusty was having the best season of his career with 15 goals and 16 assists.
It’s important that the Panthers not only get off to a good start tonight for this game, but also for the homestand. Early Sunday games haven’t always been that way, as it seems that they’ve started sluggishly until they found their legs midway into the middle period. Carolina is charging to make the playoffs, the Panthers are charging to do the same. Both teams have something at stake. All the Panthers have to do to control their destiny is win.
* This is day 100 that the Panthers have been in first place in the Southeast division.
* Total man games lost to injury for the Panthers is 299.
* Wojtek Wolski has 10 points (4g-6a) in 10 games against Carolina.
* Jose Theodore is 19-12-3 all time against Carolina with a 2.63 GAA and 4 shoutouts.
* Rookie defenceman Justin Faulk leads first year defenders in goals with 8.
* Carolina is 7-8-4 against Southeast opponents this season.
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