Pittsburgh Penguins 31-10-0 (62 pts) at Florida Panthers 13-21-6 (32 pts)
The Florida Panthers’ dismal season is nearing its end. The Panthers play their third to last home game tonight against the Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins. Surprisingly the Panthers have a chance to take the season series from the Penguins as the teams split their two prior match ups. For the last place Panthers, taking two out of three against arguably the best team in the NHL would be a momentous victory, one that would provide a much needed confidence boost for a team that otherwise has little to play for.
The Penguins however will not be an easy foe to take down. Playing without Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Paul Martin, the Penguins have managed to win three games in a row and have gone 8-2 in their last ten. The Penguins have already clinched the Atlantic Division title but are still playing for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. They are currently five points ahead of the second place Montreal Canadiens although the Canadiens do have one game in hand.
The Panthers and Penguins have met twice so far this season with each team winning on their home ice. The Penguins beat Florida 3-1 on February 22nd in Jacob Markstrom‘s season debut. Markstrom held his own against a steady barrage of shots from the Penguins stopping 37 of 40. Florida avenged the loss shortly after when they upset the Penguins 6-4 on February 26th in South Florida. Tomas Kopecky led the way in that game logging the first hat trick of his career. The Panthers scored four goals on the power play in the victory and they will need to continue that man advantage prowess tonight if they are to steal another victory.
Missing their star Crosby, the Penguins have had to turn to others to bear the scoring load. One of the players who has stepped up has been Pascal Dupuis. During his current four game point streak, Dupuis has tallied eight points on three goals and five assists. The Pens’ trade deadline acquisitions have also been affective since their arrival. Former Carolina Hurricane Jussi Jokinen has three goals and two assists in his three games with the Penguins while big time acquisition Jarome Iginla has scored one goal and three assists in his six games with the Penguins since coming over from the Calgary Flames.
For the Panthers, veteran Tomas Fleischmann has led the way on a team comprised of many young players with little NHL experience. Flash currently has a seven game point streak during which he has logged 3 goals and 5 assists. His 28 points lead the Panthers for the season.
Tonight’s game will be a good test for the Panthers. Florida had been playing well before falling 7-2 to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. Special teams will play a key role in the matchup tonight as the Penguins’ second ranked power play will looked to exploit the Panther penalty kill which ranks dead last in the NHL.
Enjoy the game tonight and keep an eye on the Rat Trick as the season comes to a close. As always, don’t forget to follow us on twitter @fansidedtherat.