GAME: Florida Panthers (27-29-14-3) at Atlanta Thrashers (29-34-7-4).
TIME: Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
Roberto Luongo is doing everything he can to get the Florida Panthers into
Luongo should be in net again as the Panthers take on the Atlanta Thrashers
with a chance to pull closer to the final postseason spot in the Eastern
Luongo stopped 50 shots, including 26 in the first period, as the Panthers
rallied from a two-goal deficit for a critical 6-4 victory over the New York
Islanders on Wednesday night.
Florida moved within seven points of the Islanders for eighth place, and
both clubs have eight games remaining. New York hosts Minnesota on Friday.
While the Panthers still face a tough task in catching the Isles despite
Wednesday's win, Luongo's brilliance gives them a chance. The former Islander
leads the NHL with a .934 save percentage, and has emerged as his team's
"Nobody was satisfied with the first period," Luongo said. "I was just
trying to keep it close."
Nathan Horton, Olli Jokinen, Matt Cullen, Stephen Weiss, Mikael Samuelsson
and Donald Audette scored for Florida, which was outshot 28-7 in the first
period and 54-24 overall.
"They came out hard on us there," Panthers coach John Torchetti said.
"They smelled blood and they went for it. Louie was unbelievable. It could
have been 5-0 after the first period."
The win was the third straight for the Panthers, who after Friday's game
will play six of their final eight games at home. Florida is 15-12-6-2 at the
Office Depot Center, and just 12-17-8-1 on the road.
Florida will look to earn another crucial two points against Atlanta, which
has beaten the Panthers three straight times. The Thrashers, two points behind
Florida, had a two-game winning streak snapped Wednesday as they blew a late
two-goal lead in losing 4-3 to Buffalo in overtime.
NHL goal leader Ilya Kovalchuk tied a career high with his 38th of the
season, and Andy Sutton tied a career best with two goals for the Thrashers in
the fight-marred game.
These teams, who conclude their season series March 27 in Florida, will both
be missing key forwards.
Audette was suspended two games by the NHL on Thursday for kicking the
Islanders' Sven Butenschon a day earlier. Atlanta's Ronald Petrovicky got a
one-game suspension for kneeing Buffalo's J.P. Dumont.
STANDINGS (through March 17): Panthers - 71 points, 2nd place, 24 PB,
Southeast Division. Thrashers - 69 points, 3rd place, 26 PB, Southeast
TEAM LEADERS: Panthers - Jokinen, 23 goals, 24 assists and 47 points; Darcy
Hordichuk, 147 PIM. Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 38 goals, 40 assists and 78 points;
Francis Lessard, 169 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 17): Panthers - Power play: 16.4 percent (44
for 269), 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.0 percent (282 for 328), 2nd.
Thrashers - Power play: 14.9 percent (55 for 369), 24th. Penalty killing: 85.7
percent (299 for 349), 4th.
GOALTENDERS: Panthers - Luongo (24-28-13, 7 SO, 2.32 GAA); Steve Shields
(3-4-1, 3.42). Thrashers - Pasi Nurminen (25-27-6, 3, 2.75); Kari Lehtonen (no
SEASON SERIES: Thrashers, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 6; Thrashers, 4-3, OT. At Sunrise, Fla., Ben Simon's
first NHL goal tied it in the third period and Vyacheslav Kozlov scored 2:57
into overtime to lift the Thrashers.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 12-17-8-1 on the road; Thrashers - 16-15-4-2