Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Bruins. Battle At The Top


FLORIDA PANTHERS: 18-10-7: (43 PTS.) vs. BOSTON BRUINS: 22-9-1 (45 PTS.)

GAME TIME: 7:00 P.M.



Not exactly the matchup you want when you’re missing seven forwards, as Stephen Weiss was the newest casualty to go down in last night’s game against the Ottawa Senators.  The Florida Panthers forward lines are beginning to resemble the San Antonio Rampage a bit, and for the next few days there’s not much else we can do (trade freeze till the 27th) other than call down to the farm.  Unless of course you have taken the ice lately with your adult league, and if you have, start doing some extra laps around the rink.  Your phone could be ringing.

With Weiss down with what is being called an upper body injury, pressure mounts across all 18 skaters to be virtually perfect in their play.  Difficult to do with players like Bill Thomas, Michal Repik and Evgenii Dadonov who haven’t played very much together, especially at this level.  In addition, last night’s overtime loss forced a number of players to play some extra and hard minutes.  It will be interesting to see how much gas is left in the tank for players like Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison.  All of these boys saw upwards of 24 minutes of ice time with Campbell leading the way with over 28.

All in all you’d have to be pleased with the resliency this team exhibited last night as they fought back on three separate occassions to tie the game.  Panther teams of the past would have rolled up and called it a night, but Florida knew that if they played desperate hockey they could potentially squeak this one out.  We’ll take the point, get a good night’s rest and hope for the best tonight in Boston.

The positive about tonight’s game in Beantown is that Jose Theodore will be back between the pipes.  Theo has played some of his best hockey against the Bruins and is looking for his seventh consecutive victory against Boston, and is 9-0-1 in his last 10 games going back to 2005-2006.  The last time these two met on December 8th, Theodore was perfect as he made 40 saves as the Panthers shut down the Bruins for a 2-0 victory, much to the surprise of the NHL.  Theodore will be counted on heavily again tonight if the Panthers are going to have any chance to keep this game close, which is really what they need to do.  With back to back games, coach Dineen may be forced to consistently roll four lines, and each set is going to have to play hard, and keep the Bruins from getting away with one.  Panthers are down, but based on last night’s gritty performance, they certainly aren’t out.

Boston meanwhile has a 14-5-1 record so far this season against winning teams, and is well rested as their last game was Monday.  Could be a good thing as this is the last game before the Christmas break and maybe just maybe the Panthers can catch the Bruins on an off night.  Since the start of November however the Bruins are 19-2-1 , and goaltender Tim Thomas is 13-1-0 with a 1.70 GAA and a .949 save percentage in that time.  His only loss came against the Panthers.

Sophomore Tyler Seguin leads the Bruins in goals with 14 and points with 29, and is showing signs of getting better and better with each game he plays.  However the scoring doesn’t stop there as Boston is a well balanced team with lines that all have some firepower with other players to keep and eye on like Patrice Bergeron, David Kreci, Milan Lucic (who’s returning from a one game suspension tonight), and of course our good old friend Nathan Horton.

This Bruins team is showing no signs of having a Stanley Cup hangover at this point in the season.  A slow start has been quickly turned around and you can probably give a lot of that credit to coach Claude Julien, who has found the right mixture of how to keep this team wanting more without having them tune him out.  Defensively the Bruins are stingy having given up only 63 goals so far this season.  That right there is a clear indication that the Panthers will need to keep this game very close.

Nerdy Numbers/Notes:

* The Bruins are 17-7-0 against teams in the Eastern Conference, but 2-4-0 against teams in the Southeast Division.

* Boston is 10-1-1 in their last 12 home games.  The lone regulation loss was against Florida.

* Boston has allowed only one power play goal in the last 37 chances against them.

* The Panthers have now lost 122 man games to injury.

* The Panthers lead the series all time 31-26-6-5.

* Kris Versteeg is now tied for 1st with Jonathan Toews for the most points on the road with 23.

* The Panthers have been atop the Southeast Division for 33 consecutive days!

* Shawn Matthias picked up his 50th career point with his goal against Ottawa last night.

* Today is Florida Panther Michael Samuelsson’s  35th birthday!

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