Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Hurricanes. Bring Me A Six Pack

February 25, 2012; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal (12) is stopped by Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore (60) during the 3rd period at the RBC center. The Panthers defeated the Hurricanes 3-2 in a shoot out. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-US PRESSWIRE

 FLORIDA PANTHERS: 36-23-13 (85 PTS.) vs. CAROLINA HURRICANES: 29-29-15 (73 PTS.)

 OPPOSITION SITE: CARDIAC CANE

TSN GAME DAY

GAME DAY SONG: GOLD ON THE CEILING, THE BLACK KEYS

Say it: “Six in a row”!  That is what the Florida Panthers are looking at with a win tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes.  The longest winning streak that the team has put together since 2008 is upon us, and with last night’s lunch pail victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, the confidence level is peaking at the right time.  While last night’s win wasn’t pretty, they got the job done, albeit some breathe holding during the last 90 seconds.

For more good news, with the Panthers on the final stretch of games for the regular season (10 more), their record against the teams they are facing is a healthy 15-4-2, and against tonight’s victim opponent they’re 4-0-0.  Despite being outsthot 36-13 by they Flyers, it was the stellar goaltending of Scott Clemmensen who basically fell off the bench and pitched a one hitter.  It was Clemmensen’s first appearance in over two weeks, and he was as sharp as a tack.  A surprise starter for Florida, the end result comes down to the fact that this veteran tandem can rise to the occasion when needed.

Expect to see Jose Theodore tonight who is 5-0-0 is his last five starts with a glowing 1.38 GAA and a .951 save percentage.  With a heavy schedule over the next 7-10 days is comfortable knowing that both goalies are in top form, and that the team in front of them is responding with solid defensive play.

Sean Bergenheim inched closer to 20 goals with his 17th of the season last night.  Since his return from a lower body injury, Bergenheim has been playing like a man possessed.  He goes hard into the corners, he’s in traffic in front of the net, and he’s even become a bit “pesky”.  Getting an opportunity to play top six minutes on a consistent basis has proved to be the right medicine for Bergenheim who continues to prove the critics wrong.  Playing alongside Mikael Samuelsson and Marcel Goc,  the trio gives the Panthers second scoring line.  Something they haven’t had since many of you were toddlers.

Kevin Dineen, coach of the Panthers had this to say about Bergenheim:

“We need everyone contributing, and we have that,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “We have guys like Scott that are scratching and clawing to get in the lineup, and that showed out there. That’s a product of work ethic, and he deserved the chance. He played well. He made a statement there.”

While some may have the opinion that last season during the playoffs Bergenheim was playing for a contract, he’s proved this season to have the same work ethic and dedication even with a new four year contract.  A very pleasing performance, proving once again that Dale Tallon has not only an eye for talent, but for character as well.

The Hurricanes think that they still have a shot at the playoffs.  They are seven points behind the eighth place Washington Capitals, and with only nine games left a lot has to happen for them to make it.  Not to take anything away from their recent performance though, they are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games, clinging to their hopes.  With a solid weekend performance which saw them beat Minnesota and Winnipeg on the road, Kirk Muller has them playing extremely well.

“It’s a gutsy effort, back-to-back games coming into a really tough building,” coach Kirk Muller said. “This is the way our guys have been playing since Christmas. They go, give it everything they got. We had a short bench, had injuries there (Sunday) and everything, but they’ve been finding a way to pick up points and I’m really proud of the group. Everybody’s really stepped up.”

Cam Ward has been much better of late in goal, and as most anyone knows that follows the Canes, as he goes, so do they.  He’s 4-2-1 in his last eight starts, and many of the games have been tight.  If nothing else he’s keeping the games close, which is all you can ask of a goaltender at this time of the year.

As we talk about streaks, the Canes are looking for their first four game winning streak since December 2010.  The Canes while not playing an in your face style, play an uptempo style that is similar to Florida’s.  Kirk Muller proving that he’s tossed out the Jacques Martin playbook, wants his team playing north and south, and doing it quickly, utilizing their team speed.  This can cause the Canes to give up some odd man rushes and that’s where they can be caught.  They’ve given up 217 goals on the season which is 26th in the entire NHL.  Hoping to help in that area of the game, Joni Pitkanen who has missed 44 games this season has been activated, and will be a huge addition to Carolina’s blueline.

Chad LaRose has been hot lately, scoring six times in his past eight games, after getting only six in his previous 33.  He has 17 so far, putting him two goals shy of his career high set back in 2008-2009.  Pesky, and hard working, he’s Carolina’s version of Sean Bergenheim right now.

Eric Staal the Canes captain has come back to form recently as well.  At one point his plus/minus rating was in the high 20′s and he’s been able to reduce that to a minus 14.  Still a high number, but that stat is very misleading at times.  Staal leads the Canes in goals with 21 and points with 64.  He has struggled against the Panthers lately, however he should not be taken lightly.

Jeff Skinner who has missed two games after being suspended returns to the lineup much to the giddiness of Kristina Kelly of Cardiac Cane.  Skinner always plays well against Florida, and tonight will be no different as he’ll be well rested and ready to go.

Despite Carolina’s record, despite the amount of goals they have given up, and despite the fact that they’ve lost four games to Florida this season, doesn’t make them a pushover.  The Panthers won a game last night that they probably had no business winning.  When you’re on  a streak, those things happen.  You get bounces going your way, and you also get a bit of luck.

Nerdy Notes/Numbers:

* Cam Ward earned his 200th NHL victory with a win over St. Louis on March 15th.

* Ward is 12-9-2 with a 2.96 GAA in 26 career games against the Panthers.

* Jose Theodore is 20-12-3 with a 2.55 GAA and five shutouts against Carolina.

* Carolina is 20-7-10 when scoring the games first goal.

* They are also 3-17-2 when they trail after 40 minutes.

* When Carolina scores four goals or more they are 13-0-0.

* Carolina is second in the league with 11 short handed goals.

* Carolina is 8-94 against Southeast division opponents.

* The Panthers have now been is first place for 109 days, including 24 in a row.

* After last night’s win, the Panthers have now won at least one game against each Eastern conference team this year.

* Following that loss to Phildelphia on March 8th, the Panthers have outscored opponents 19-8, and have not allowed more than two goals in the six games they have played since then.

* Florida is 16-0-1 when scoring a power play goal.

* The Panthers are 28-2-4 when scoring three goals or more.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

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Topics: Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, Eric Staal, Florida Panthers, Gold On The Ceiling, Jose Theodore, Scott Clemmensen, Sean Bergenheim, Six In A Row

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