It's game 1 of the playoff push tonight for the Panthers. It's a chance to make the postseason. It is within reach. A 10 game season starts tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes.
And wouldn't you know it... it's not televised. Well, unless you forked over the $99 for NHL Center Ice (I did). How this is possible, I'm not sure. I know it has something to do with the Versus network and some NHL exclusivity rule, but I just don't get it. Early season games, sure. Pre-All Star game, ok. But during the last couple weeks of the season, where every game can affect the playoff standings? Oh well.
As for the 'Canes, they've been playing some solid hockey lately. Thanks to a 7-1-2 record over their last 10, Carolina finds itself in the 6th seed. They're 1 point behind Pittsburgh, 1 point ahead of the Rangers. Think this game is only meaningful for the Cats? Carolina's going to bring it tonight. They know Florida's fading. Nothing would make them happier then to put the first nail in the coffin.
For Florida, they are 5 points behind these Hurricanes. A win tonight would be a large one for obvious reasons. Confidence heading out on a quick but crucial road trip will be key. 2 points tonight to get them into that 8th spot would be nice.
No word on whether or not Nathan Horton will return tonight. He's been skating the past couple days, testing his repaired finger. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think the Panthers could use his stick on the ice tonight. As much as I've ragged on Horton this season, there's no question he has been able to score of late, and nothing is needed more then goals right now.
The post-regular, pre-post season starts tonight. Puck drops at 7:30. Get a ticket, head to the game. Find a bar with Center Ice. Tune in to Randy Moller. Just do something. It's gonna be a good one (I hope...)
UPDATE A few lineup changes tonight. Nathan Horton will indeed be back, as will Nick Boynton. Steve Eminger, Anthony Stewart, and Nick Tarnasky will watch this game from the press box. Personally, I don't know that Eminger has done anything to warrant his being benched, but then again, he hasn't done anything to show he should stay in the lineup. It's a move that's probably being made just to change things up. What Florida's been doing lately hasn't worked, so let's mix it up. I hope\expect to see Boynton come out flying.