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At the Rink blog

Panthers' Weiss chasing very special birthday gift

Tuesday, 04.03.2012 / 2:02 PM

By Alain Poupart - NHL.com Correspondent / At the Rink blog

SUNRISE, Fla. -- It's almost like deja vu for Stephen Weiss.

Ten years ago on this day, Weiss celebrated his 19th birthday by playing in his first NHL game and scoring his first goal in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh.

The Florida Panthers center turned 29 on Tuesday, with the possibility of clinching his first NHL playoff berth looming as an even better birthday present.

"I think [I'm] more excited today, more nervous back then," Weiss said when asked to compare the emotions of both days. "But it's cool that it falls on the same day. My mom's in town, so it's nice. Hopefully we'll have something fun to talk about after the game."

Earlier this season, Weiss became Florida's all-time leader in games played. But he has yet to play a game in the postseason.

That's likely to change this year, with Florida's magic number down to two to clinch a playoff berth and the Southeast Division title. That means a victory over Winnipeg on Tuesday will give the Panthers the first division title in franchise history.

"We've got to win," Weiss said. "We know what's at stake. The key is not to think about it, just go through your normal routine that you usually do. Saying that, we've got to have a little extra bite tonight, for sure. We don't want to keep this thing going. We want to finish it off tonight, and we're playing a good hockey club, so we'll have our hands full."

Weiss actually got an early birthday present Monday night from Steven Stamkos, a fellow Ontario native with whom he often trains in the summer.

It was Stamkos' two late goals, including the game-winner with 1:03 left in regulation, that gave Tampa Bay a 4-2 victory over Washington on Monday night and put the Panthers on the brink of clinching the division title.

"Stammer came through for us at the end," Weiss said. "Gave Stammer a little text there, told him I love him, there at the end of the game. It was big for us, obviously.

"I'm rooting for him to get 60 [goals] obviously. That was a big goal for him and for us, so I thought I'd just give him a little text."

With Stamkos having done his part, Weiss and his teammates now have the chance to make it a truly memorable birthday.

"It's got the makings to be a good day," Weiss said. "We'll put all that aside for now and just focus on going through our routine and our process and playing hard for 60 minutes, and see what happens."

For me, it's a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it's big.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards on their win vs. the Penguins in Game 2, the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff victory