Mar 8, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) in the middle of a fight with Philadelphia Flyers center Zac Rinaldo (36) during the 3rd period at the Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia Flyers beat the Florida Panthers, 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Szagola-US PRESSWIRE

Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Flyers. The Drive For Five

 FLORIDA PANTHERS: 35-23-13 (83 PTS.) vs. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: 42-22-8 (92 PTS.)



GAME DAY SONG: 505- Arctic Monkeys

It’s been four years since the Florida Panthers had a winning streak longer than the one they’re on now.  They head into the city of brotherly love tonight looking for their fifth in a row, ironically against the team that defeated them last.  On March 8th of this season, the Panthers lost were spanked 5-0 by the Philadelphia Flyers in a game that head coach Kevin Dineen wanted them to forget.  It must have worked as the Panthers have looked like a completely different team after that loss, and have taken control of their destiny by sweeping their recent homestand and picking up eight points in the process.

 In what may be surprising to some, Jose Theodore who was in goal for the loss in Philadelphia last time, has started every game since then, and has been superb.  In his last five games Theo has a record of 4-0-1 with a 1.35 GAA and a .953 save percentage.  Theodore has 22 wins on the season and since his return from a knee in injury in February has appeared in 15 games and is 8-4-2.  If, or rather when the Panthers clinch a playoff spot this season, you can all thank Jose Theodore for leading the way there.  Without a doubt, he has been the most vital part of the teams revival this season, and has truly been the backbone that the team has relied on.  I’ll say it from now, he’s the teams’ MVP for this season.

Aside from streaking to five in a row, the Panthers will also be looking to avoid a sixth consecutive loss to the Flyers.  It’s just another of the many tests that this Panther team has had to face all season long, but with the veterans that were acquired and coach Kevin Dineen leading the way, they have continued to respond to each challenge.  Dineen has been happy with the clubs response:

 “We’ve got a long, long road until the end of the season,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “It’ll be a tough stretch for us. We know there’s some quality teams that we’re going to face, but I like going out on the ice with these guys every day.”

Ed Jovanovski, one of the alternate captains and leader of the team has also expressed his thoughts on what lies ahead:

“We’ve got something going here and we’ve got to find a way to keep it rolling,” Jovanovski said. “This time of the year is the best time. Every point is crucial.”

In the past when the Panthers have teased us with a playoff chase, you may have heard those or similar words by players or coach’s, however this time you can believe it.  This is a different team with a different mind set, and you can tell just by the way that players like John Madden and Tomas Kopecky have played lately.  Contributing on the scoreboard after each player had gone scoreless for ages, it’s been a welcome site as the two have combined for six points in their last four games.  It’s refreshing to see the veterans with Stanley Cup experience step up at just the right time.  That’s what’s been missing from this team for so long.

Call them Blackhawks South, but when you look at the list of players on this Panthers team that have had an integral part in the success of the season, you can point directly to them.  Specifically Brian Campbell and Kris Versteeg, who’s contributions have been humongous! (Catch that?)

As for the Flyers, they are on a hot streak of their own with a record of 8-1-1 in their last 10, and they are coming off a thrilling victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday in which they halted the Penguins consecutive game winning streak.  The winning goal was scored by Scott Hartnell with 0.9 seconds left.  It was Hartnell’s second of the game in what has been a career year for the fiesty forward. The Flyers currently sit in the fifth spot in the Eastern conference, one point behind Pittsburgh, and with a legitimate shot at catching the Rangers.  Hartnell commented after the Penguins game of the importance of what these games mean:

“It was a playoff game,” Hartnell, who scored in the last meeting with Florida, said Sunday. “One step closer to getting home ice (advantage in the first round).”

Adding to the mix of tonight’s game will be the play of Flyer’s netminder Ilya Bryzgalov who has turned his season around after a mid year slump.  Bryzgalov is 8-0-1 with a 1.19 GAA in the month of March, and will be difficult for the Panthers to solve.  With the way each team’s goaltenders are playing this will either be a real pitchers duel, or one will crack, and you just hope that it’s not us.  Besides Breezy’s play, keep an eye out for Claude Giroux who is making a run for the Hart Trophy with his performance this season.  Giroux has 22 points in his last 16 games, and has become a dangerous player with and without the puck. (Damn you Jacques Martin).

The importance of this game for both teams is immense, but what hangs in the balance for the Panthers is their lead over Washington in the division.  Currently that lead is three points, and with a victory tonight it will can be five.  The Panthers also play Carolina tomorrow night,  giving them a chance at a four point road trip before coming home on Friday to play host to the Edmonton Oilers.

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

* The Florida Panthers have been in first place for 108 days.  Currently 23 in a row.

* Jose Theodore has allowed two goals or less in four straight starts and 12 of his last 15 appearances.

* The Panthers are 15-0-1 when scoring a power play goal, and not allowing a power play goal.

* When the Panthers score at least three goals their record is 28-2-4.

* The Flyers play every other day for the rest of the season except for two off days march 27-28.

* The Flyers are second in the NHL in goals scored with 231.

* The Flyers penalty kill has been perfect in 11 of their last 12 games, killing off 28 of 30 chances.

* The Flyers lead the league with the most penalties at 1144, causing them to be shorthanded 283 times.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

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Tags: Brian Campbell Claude Giroux Ed Jovanovski Florida Panthers Humongous Ilya Bryzgalov Jose Theodore Philadelphia Flyers

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