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GAME DAY: vs. Florida

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

  Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Florida Panthers
RECORDS - CBJ: 25-45-7 (Home: 15-21-3), FLA: 37-24-16 (Road: 17-15-6)
WHEN: Mar. 30, 2012 - 7 p.m.   |   WHERE: Nationwide Arena

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Two years ago, Panthers GM Dale Tallon took over a team saddled by bad contracts and a lack of direction. The architect of the 2010 Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks team had a vision for both the short-term and long-term in South Florida, and immediately got to work re-shaping the club that, in 2011-12, has been one of the biggest surprises around the National Hockey League.

Tallon garnered headlines this past offseason with an extravagant shopping spree of trades and free-agent signings that drew heavy criticism from around the hockey media sphere. Before the brand-new roster took shape, however, Tallon let former head coach Peter DeBoer go and brought in Kevin Dineen – a longtime NHL player and successful coach with the AHL’s Portland Pirates. With another piece of the puzzle in place, the Panthers moved forward and got to work on the roster. Tallon traded for Brian Campbell from Chicago (they won a cup together), signed a new starting goaltender in Jose Theodore, and completely revamped the forward group.

Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg (trade), Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim and others were brought in on multi-year deals to be part of the next chapter in Sunrise. Tallon traded power forward David Booth to the Canucks early in the season, bringing veterans Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm in return. How would these players fit? Would they have cohesion, or would it be a complete failure? The results have spoken for themselves: the Panthers currently lead the Southeast Division and are holding down the third seed in the Eastern Conference, and are closing in on securing their first playoff appearance in over a decade.

Much of their success can be credited to Dineen’s even-handed approach, which has been revered by his players and kept them from experiencing any significant swoons over the course of a long regular season. With Theodore playing last night in Minnesota, it’s possible that Scott Clemmensen plays tonight in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.

Nash (27) Fleischmann (24)
Prospal (35) Campbell (45)
Nash (53) Fleischmann (56)
Dorsett (212) Barch (112)
MacKenzie (+4) Weiss (+8)
Mason (14-26-3)
Theodore (22-14-9)
Sanford (2.60) Theodore (2.35)
Sanford (.911) Theodore (.921)
• The Blue Jackets conclude a stretch of playing five of six at home tonight against the Panthers. Columbus has gone 12-13-1 the last 26 games after posting a 4-15-2 mark the previous 21 outings.

Jack Johnson has points in seven of the last 13 games, including two assists Mar. 23 vs. Carolina. The assists, added with a helper Mar. 26 at Detroit, give him 101 for his NHL career (358 games). He has 3-6-9 the last 13 games, including three multi-point games, while playing 25-plus minutes in the last 12 games. He set a franchise record playing 31:25 Mar. 26 vs. Detroit. Two nights later he broke that record by playing 32:16 vs. Detroit..

• Tonight marks lone meeting this season between the Blue Jackets and Panthers. Columbus is 7-4-0 all-time against Florida, including a 3-2-0 mark at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets have won four straight meetings between the clubs, including the most recent meeting at Nationwide (3-2 SOW, Mar. 29, 2011).

Nikita Nikitin has points in four of the last six games, including two assists Wednesday vs. Detroit. He has 1-5-6 during that stretch after being held pointless the previous 11 games. It marked his third career multi-point game and second in the last four games.


C - #9
  19 GOALS

• In the midst of the summer overhaul, Tallon went to Weiss – the Panthers franchise player – and asked if he wanted to be part of the solution. Weiss elected to stay in Florida, the captain has had a tremendous season centering the Panthers’ top line.

D Radek Martinek (concussion); out for the season
LW Kristian Huselius (lower body); indefinitely
D Marc Methot (jaw); indefinitely
D Fedor Tyutin (hand); indefinitely
D James Wisniewski (upper body); indefinitely
G Curtis Sanford (lower body); indefinitely

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