Now that their recent play has given them some breathing room in the standings, the Hurricanes’ game against the Florida Panthers tonight isn’t quite as do-or-die as it was originally thought as early as one week ago.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything on the line, however, as a victory would put Carolina ever so close to the playoff spot that has eluded them for the last two seasons.
Things went about as well as the possibly could for the Hurricanes over the last week, as three consecutive victories at home, combined with seemingly every other team in the playoff race stumbling, has put the Canes in their best position of the season – sixth place in the conference and five points ahead of Florida, the ninth-place team.
With Buffalo now facing an uphill climb to get back into the playoff race, Florida is likely the only team currently on the outside with a chance to fight their way back in. If the Canes can hold off the Panthers down the stretch, that might be all it takes to get into the postseason. On the flip side, Carolina’s current situation gives them the luxury of still being in pretty good shape even if they don’t leave South Florida with two points.
The Panthers are coming off an absolute heartbreaker in which they gave up three goals (including an empty-netter) in the last three minutes against Columbus – a game they led 1-0 since late in the first period.
For a team that had already lost four of five heading into that contest, including a pair of blown third-period leads that are becoming increasingly rare across the league this season, normally I would say that kind of loss would be very tough to recover from. However, with the freefalling Montreal Canadiens only one point ahead of them, there is still plenty of incentive to come out hard tonight against Carolina in a game that has to be a must-win for Florida.
Offense has been a recent problem for the Panthers, which has scored only two goals in its last three games. Over the course of the season, the Panthers rank 20th in the NHL with an average of 2.71 goals per game.
Matt Cullen is expected out of the lineup for Carolina tonight, but it shouldn’t be anything serious enough to cause him to miss time outside of this game. The real shame here is that Cullen’s absence will cause a disruption in the line combinations, all of which have been working extremely well.
While tonight’s game will not be televised in the traditional manner as part of Versus’ exclusive Monday night rights, the in-house feed from BankAtlantic Center will be on NHL Center Ice and NHL.com’s GameCenter package. My understanding is that Florida’s radio feed be used to accompany the broadcast. As always, fans can listen on 99.9 FM the Fan, so feel free to use your DVRs to sync up with Chuck Kaiton’s call where applicable.