FLORIDA PANTHERS: 37-24-15 (89 PTS.) vs. MINNESOTA WILD: 31-35-10 (71 PTS.)
OPPOSITION SITE: GONE PUCK WILD
GAMEDAY SONG: LAND OF HOPE AND DREAMS-Bruce Springsteen
A four game road trip at the end of the season when you’re in a playoff hunt may not be the best thing for you. However when the competition against three of those four teams who are playing out the string could work in your favor, as long as you don’t let them get the upper hand. As the Florida Panthers started this road trip Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens, the Cats were in danger of looking at a four game losing at the worst time of the season. And for two periods it looked as if it was going to come true.
While there are a number of veterans on this team who’ve been in playoff situations as well as some who are Stanley Cup winners, young defenceman Erik Gudbranson lit the match to ignite the Panthers. It wasn’t only his fight against Ryan White that provided energy, but it was also his rush up the ice, and his nifty drop pass to Mikael Samuelsson who scored the tying goal in the third period that sparked Florida to the shootouot victory. In addition to Gudbranson’s youthful energy, Wojtek Wolski and Scott Clemmensen also provided additional theatrics that allowed the Panthers to pull away with the win. The Panthers with this road trip now have a chance to lock things up against three teams that are out of contention. Clemmensen sums it up best:
“We’re in the driver’s seat and we want to tighten our grip a bit,” goaltenderScott Clemmensen said. “In a perfect world, we could go into Washington next week and have a big cushion and take that pressure off ourselves.”
A victory tonight coupled with another Washington loss, would give the Panthers a seven point cushion over the fickle Capitals. Two things about that Caps team that could change their fortune however is that Nicklas Backstrom is coming back from injury, and Tomas Vokoun is ready to get back in goal. Check back later on how this shakes out, but no matter what, Florida needs to do this by themselves and not be dependent on others.
With back to back games this first one against Minnesota won’t be cakewalk despite the Wild’s recent record over their past 10 games (3-7-0). Minnesota who was officially eliminated from the playoffs this past Sunday is 3-10-1 in their last 14 games, but a team like this can play “spoiler”, and that’s what the Panthers need to be careful of. Preparation for tonight’s game is key, as Florida can’t afford a let down here, or any upcoming game for that matter. In regards to the Wild, you wonder if they’re a better team than their recent record indicates, or if they are just as they appear.
“It’s just the little mental lapses we’ve got to get rid of,” centerKyle Brodziak said following his team’s third consecutive defeat. “We have a jersey to represent, and we have fans that come out and support us and there’s a lot of reasons to keep playing and keep working as hard as we can.”
Making matters worse for the Wild is that they’ve been outscored 46-20 and have been shutout five times during this recent tailspin. For a team that had historically been known to limit their opponents shots, the Wild are getting a taste of tier own medicine. They are last in the NHL in goals scored with only 161. Their leader Dany Heatley has a paltry 21, which would be his lowest total since 2004-2005 when he had 13 playing in Switzerland during the lockout. He has two goals in his past 20 games dating back to mid February.
The Wild haven’t had much difficulty against the Panthers over the years, and have an 8-1-1 record in the last 10 matchups. However two of the loses have come in the last three games. When the two teams met in South Florida, the Wild were victorious by a score of 3-2 in a shootout win, as Sean Bergenheim scored with under five minutes remaining in regulation to force the tie.
Niklas Backstrom who Jose Theodore was backup to last season has been out with a lower body injury since March 1st. He did however dress as the backup for Josh Harding on Tuesday night. Backstrom is 4-0-1 against Florida with a 1.94 GAA in the five games he’s played.
Scratches for Florida:
Santorelli-Barch-Ellerby-Samuelsson (maintenance day)
Forward Lines from the Morning skate:
* Dany Heatley has 33 points (17-16) in 30 games against the Panthers.
* John Madden appeared in 76 games for the Wild last season.
* Minnesota has never lost in regulation to Florida, going 3-0-2.
* The Wild ranks third in the NHL with 1,248 blocked shots.
* The Wild have used 44 players this season, including 13 rookies.
* Cal Clutterbuck ranks third in the NHL in hits with 259. He’s led the league in each of the past three season.
* Minnesota has scored the first goal 48 times this season, however they are only 18-25-5 when that happens.
* The Wild are 4-29-7 when giving up three or more goals.
* The Panthers have now been in first place for 118 days, including 33 in a row!
* The Panthers have points in nine of their past 10 games (6-3-1).
* When the Panthers score at least three goals they are 29-2-4.
* The Panthers are 6-4-3 on the first night of back to back games.
* Jose Theodore has allowed two goals or less in 14 of his last 18 games. He’s 7-3-3 in his last 13 games.
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