Blue Jackets-Panthers Preview
GAME: Columbus Blue Jackets (14-28-2) at Florida Panthers (18-22-6).
TIME: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
The Florida Panthers' dominance this season over an entire division could be the difference in getting to the postseason.
Florida looks to remain perfect against Central Division foes when they welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets to the BankAtlantic Center.
The Panthers won their fourth straight game over Central Division opponents with a 3-1 win Friday over the St. Louis Blues behind first-period goals from Olli Jokinen and Joe Nieuwendyk.
We got a couple goals that kind of cushioned us," said Nieuwendyk. "It's good to maintain a two-goal lead. A great goal by Olli to start things off and (Jozef) Stumpel made a great pass on my goal."
Roberto Luongo finished with 35 saves. He has two career home wins against the Blue Jackets, both by shutout.
Florida defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 on Dec. 3 and routed the Nashville Predators 7-3 on Dec. 13. The Panthers made it three in a row over the Central Division on Dec. 15 with a 3-2 victory over the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings.
Florida also is 8-1-1 in its last 10 home games and begin play trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils by five points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus will try to avoid going winless in the Sunshine State. The Blue Jackets twice drew within one goal in the third period Friday before falling 4-2 to the Lightning.
"I think we just gave that game away in the third period ... I don't remember us playing a dumber period than the one we played in the third," said Blue Jackets goaltender Marc Denis, who finished with 35 saves. "If we go back and forth with this team, we don't have a chance.
"I don't know what happened. I don't know how the switch in our brain went off. It's just the wrong way to play this game."
Rick Nash kept alive his points streak by assisting on Nikolai Zherdev's team-leading 13th goal of the season. Nash has seven goals and six assists in a season-high seven-game points streak.
Columbus tied a franchise record for goals in a game on March 9, 2001, with a 7-6 victory over Florida.
STANDINGS: Blue Jackets - 30 points, 4th place, 31 PB, Central Division. Panthers - 42 points, 4th place, 20 PB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Blue Jackets - Zherdev, 13 goals; David Vyborny, 17 assists; Zherdev and Vyborny, 26 points; Jody Shelley, 100 PIM. Panthers - Jokinen, 21 goals, 27 assists and 48 points; Chris Gratton, 63 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Blue Jackets - Power play: 13.6 percent (34 for 249), 27th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83 percent (253 for 305), 12th. Panthers - Power play: 15.4 percent (36 for 233), 24th (tied). Penalty killing: 82.8 percent (241 for 291), 13th.
GOALTENDERS: Blue Jackets - Denis (8-17-0, 1 SO, 3.34 GAA); Pascal Leclaire (3-8-2, 0, 3.47). Panthers - Luongo (18-18-6, 2, 2.99); Jamie McLennan (0-4-0, 0, 3.10).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Panthers, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 3, 2004, Panthers, 1-0. At Sunrise, Fla., Luongo made 42 saves for his third shutout of the season and Stephen Weiss scored the only goal. Denis finished with 33 saves for Columbus.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blue Jackets - 5-16-2 on the road; Panthers - 13-6-2 at home.