PANTHERS (21-14-8) at BRUINS (28-12-1)
TV: NESN (HD), FS-F
Last 10: Florida 3-5-2; Boston 7-3-0.
Season Series: The Bruins and Panthers have split two games this season, with Boston taking the last game in dominating fashion, trouncing the Cats 8-0 on Dec. 23, 2011, at TD Garden.
Big Story: While the Bruins have clearly established themselves as one of the top teams in the League this season, Florida's surprising first-half Southeast lead has dwindled significantly. A win over the defending champions would be a nice way to recharge the Panthers' batteries for the second half.
Bruins: As the season's second half gets into gear, Boston has left little reason to believe it won't be among the handful of teams with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations this spring. Despite a 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes Saturday night, the Bruins have still been dominating the competition, winning 11 of their last 14 games. Boston is currently in first in the Northeast, and while its lead over Ottawa is a mere one point, with five games in hand Beantown is sitting pretty.
With their visit to Florida Monday, the Bruins will be looking to avoid their first back-to-back losses in more than a month, which could be tricky as Boston is currently on the second stop in a four-game road trip, but Boston's road record (12-5-0) is nearly as impressive as its record at home (16-7-1). The task of winning gets tougher considering Brad Marchand is still out serving his suspension, but odds are the B's won't be feeling too uncomfortable.
Panthers: After being one of the season's bright surprises in the first half, it's getting to be crunch time for the Panthers. Florida's once-sizeable lead in the Southeast Division has quickly evaporated, and suddenly the Cats are in a dog fight with a Washington team that has begun to surge after a slump of its own. To make matters worse for the Panthers, the third-place Jets are just five points out.
Before Florida begins to worry about its rivals, however, it would do well to worry about itself. Part of the reason for that lead disappearing is that the Panthers have won just one of their last four games. Upping the anxiety is that after Monday's game, the Panthers will hit the road for a three-game trek that takes them far from home, as they make stops in Colorado, Chicago and Winnipeg.
Who's Hot: David Krejci has lit up the scoresheet for Boston, tallying 16 points in his last 11 games. ... The Panthers have struggled to find the back of the net lately, but Marcel Goc has been doing his part, potting two goals and adding two assists in his last four games.
Stat Pack: It's hard to quantify just how good the Bruins have been this season -- often you need to watch them play to understand how they dominate opponents at both ends of the ice -- but if any number can sum it up it might be this: Boston leads the League with a +69 goal differential. The second best mark belongs to Detroit, which has an umpressive-by-comparison mark of +38.
Puck Drop: The Panthers may be feeling some urgency if they can't turn things around soon. The difference between first in the Southeast and 9th in the conference is a mere two points. Facing the B's off a loss when they haven't dropped back-to-back games since Dec. 8 probably seems daunting, but it was Florida that handed Boston that second loss. The Cats will be hoping they can turn the trick again.