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At the Rink: Blues at Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Before embarking on what could become a season-defining road trip, the Florida Panthers will face the streaking St. Louis Blues with a depleted defenseman corps.

The Panthers have been without captain Willie Mitchell for the past five games because of an upper-body injury and he's expected to be out again Sunday. Dmitry Kulikov will miss the game because of his NHL???suspension after he was given a major penalty for clipping and a game misconduct for his low hit on Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin on Friday. Kulikov's phone hearing with the League office is scheduled for Monday after the defenseman waived his right to an in-person hearing.

To replace Kulikov, the Panthers recalled veteran Shane O'Brien from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League. O'Brien played four games in early January in his first call-up.

The Panthers, coming off 2-1 and 2-0 losses against the Minnesota Wild and the Stars on Thursday and Friday, are ninth in the Eastern Conference and trail the eighth-place Boston Bruins by four points with one game in hand.

After Sunday, the Panthers start a five-game road trip that begins Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs and ends seven days later with the first of a home-and-home set against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Panthers (24-19-11)???are 3-0-1 in their past four at home, including a 6-2 victory against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday in their last game at BB&T???Center.

Florida has had problems against St. Louis in recent years, losing five in a row by a combined score of 21-4.

St. Louis won the first game this season, 4-2 at home on Dec. 8. Chris Porter broke a 2-2 tie with 1:54 left in the third period and the since-retired Martin Brodeur made 32 saves.

The Blues come in with the third-best record in the Western Conference with 76 points, six behind the conference-leading Nashville Predators with a game in hand.

The Blues (36-15-4) have compiled the NHL's best record since the beginning of January, going 14-2-1 over their past 17. They have won two in a row, the last a 6-3 road victory against the Tampa Bay Lighting on Thursday that moved Ken Hitchcock past Dick Irvin into third place on the NHL's all-time coaching victories list with 693.

Goalie Brian Elliott is expected to start for the Blues after making 26 saves against Tampa Bay. Elliott has a 1.67 goals-against average in winning three consecutive starts against Florida, though only one of those appearances has come since 2011-12.

After Al Montoya got the start against Dallas on Friday, Roberto Luongo is expected to start for Florida. He is 2-1-1 in his past four games, giving up two goals each time.

Here are the projected lineups:


Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin - Paul Stastny - Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott - Marcel Goc - Ryan Reaves

Chris Butler - Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson - Jay Bouwmeester

Barret Jackman - Ian Cole

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Scratched: Joakim Lindstrom

Injured: Kevin Shattenkirk (abdomen), Chris Porter (leg)


Jussi Jokinen - Nick Bjugstad - Jimmy Hayes

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Brad Boyes

Tomas Fleischmann - Dave Bolland - Scottie Upshall

Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Shawn Thornton

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Shane O'Brien - Erik Gudbranson

Steven Kampfer - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Scratched: Sean Bergenheim

Suspended: Dmitry Kulikov

Injured: Willie Mitchell (upper body), Brandon Pirri (upper body)

Status report: Mitchell was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Feb. 3 and is eligible to return. ... Pirri was put on IR?????????retroactive to Feb. 10. ... Jackman is set to tie Brian Sutter for second place on the Blues' all-time games played list with 779. Bernie Federko holds the record with 927.

Who's hot: Steen's three-point game against Tampa Bay gave him 11 goals and 14 assists in 18 games since Jan. 1. ... Stastny has seven goals and 14 points in 10 career games against Florida. ... Bjugstad has three goals in his past five games.

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