The Panthers will try for the 3rd time in about a week to vault themselves into playoff position. Florida's last 2 stays in the 8th seed lasted about 24 hours. First, it was Pittsburgh winning and taking a 1 point lead over Florida, then last night, Carolina's win vaulted them 1 point ahead of the Cats.
Tonight, Florida plays its final game before the All-Star break, welcoming the Dallas Stars to the BAC. Dallas is coming off a 4-2 loss in Tampa Monday night, despite taking a 2-1 lead to the 3rd period. The Panthers haven't lost in regulation in 8 straight, going 5-0-3. Those OT\SO losses are starting to add up, however. Florida is just 2-6 in shootouts this year.
Something to watch for tonight is special teams. The Stars are 27th in the NHL in both penalty killing and power play. Florida has been slowly moving up the power play ranks since their dreadful start. Tonight is a great chance for the Panthers to continue their recent success.
2 points is a must tonight. Florida needs to be riding this high through the time off, memories of wins, not shootout "losses," in their heads. For nothing else but confidence. This is still a young team, and probably only a handful of players on the roster have seen postseason hockey (only Cory Stillman pops to mind... maybe Zednik or Vokoun?) It's a Western Conference opponent, so if it takes extra time, fine, but they need to earn 2 points. 7th seed Buffalo is in Tampa and 3 points ahead of Florida. Wouldn't it be nice to start watching the teams in 6th and 7th instead of 8th and 9th?
P.S. Both Ville Peltonen and Nick Boynton practiced yesterday. If Pelts is on the ice tonight... Don Cherry may need to rethink his "Europeans are wimps" mantra. A cracked bone in his foot that he was playing with anyways, then Evgeny Artyukhin's knee bomb? While he is a good guy to have on the ice, it wouldn't be a bad thing to give him tonight off and give him an extra week to recoup.
UPDATE: As I eagerly await tonight's game, just thought I'd drop a couple notes that have popped up (just in case you checked here before anywhere else...) Ville Peltonen is indeed sitting this one out tonight. Coach P. said he could play tonight if it were a dire situation, playoff type game, etc... but for a mid-January game before a week off, Pelts needs the rest. Noah Welch also did enough Saturday night to be included in tonight's roster as well. Good for him, he was jumping in on the play pretty well, from what I remember. He earned it. T-Vo gets the start in net. T minus 2 hours...