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Panthers aim for .500 against Predators

by Tal Pinchevsky
PREDATORS (23-13-6) at PANTHERS (19-20-2)


Last 10:
Nashville 6-4-0; Florida 4-4-2

Season series:
This is the second and final meeting between these teams. In their previous matchup on Dec. 11, Anders Lindback made 22 saves for his first NHL shutout in a 3-0 Nashville win. The Predators won both their games against Florida last season and are 7-2-3-0 against the Panthers since the 2000-01 season.

Big story:
This matchup could be a sentimental affair for goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who spent eight seasons with Nashville before being traded to Florida in 2007. He is still the Predators' all-time leader in wins, shutouts, and games played by a goalie. Since coming to the Panthers, he is within 14 wins and five shutouts of establishing new Panthers' franchise records in those respective categories.

Potential milestones aside, Vokoun has had a tough go lately. While the Predators are enjoying a six-game win streak, Vokoun has been pulled from two of his last seven starts.

Team Scope:

Predators: With their current winning streak, Nashville has rocketed up the Central Division standings, pulling to within seven points of first-place Detroit while holding a game in hand.

In a 5-1 win over the Wild on Tuesday, Joel Ward's goal proved the winner and Nick Spaling's two third-period goals gave him his first multi-goal game as an NHL player. Goaltender Pekka Rinne made 25 saves for the win and has allowed two goals or fewer in seven of the eight games he has played since returning from a knee injury on Dec. 23.

"It's all about momentum and confidence," Ward said after the game. "We're just playing with a lot of confidence. We just think about what's going on right now, and we take it period by period."

Panthers: While the Predators have thrived lately in low-scoring games, the Panthers have struggled holding onto a lead. That was best demonstrated on Tuesday against Washington when Florida blew a 3-0 lead at home before Dennis Wideman's power-play goal in overtime salvaged a 4-3 win.

That game marked the fourth time in five games that Florida had failed to hold a lead. These recent difficulties were magnified by the fact that each of these games were against Southeast Division teams. While the Panthers won two of the four games in which they lost their lead, those wins came in overtime, allowing division rivals to gain valuable points in the standings.

"Obviously, we've struggled with the lead," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Any kind of confidence builder for us I'll take right now."

Who's hot: Preds captain and recent All-Star selection Shea Weber has a six-game point streak in which he has registered 10 points and a plus-11 rating. …  With 3 assists on Tuesday against the Capitals, Panthers forward Stephen Weiss has recorded 18 points in his last 16 games.

Injury report:
Nashville's current run comes despite a rash of injuries. Forwards Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Cal O'Reilly (broken fibula), Martin Erat (upper body), and Steve Sullivan (lower body) are all on IR. Fellow forward Jordin Tootoo is also unavailable as he has entered into inpatient care through the players' union's substance abuse and behavioral health program. … For the Panthers, Chris Higgins missed Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury while forward Byron Bitz (hernia surgery) is on IR. 

Stat pack:
Florida isn't the only Southeast Division team the Predators have had success against. Nashville has feasted on the entire division, going 4-0-2 against the Southeast this season and 16-4-6 since the 2007-08 season.

Puck drop:
The man advantage may not play a prominent role in this game. Both teams boast top-seven ranked penalty kills and bottom-six ranked power plays.  Wideman's OT winner against Washington was the Panthers' second power-play goal in their last 22 chances.

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