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Panthers face Senators with opportunity knocking

by Chris Stevenson / NHL.com

PANTHERS (26-19-12) at SENATORS (23-23-10)

TV: SN, TVA Sports 2, FS-F

OTTAWA -- The Florida Panthers can take over the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Saturday.

The Panthers, with 64 points, are one behind the Boston Bruins, who are off Saturday. They are looking for their second three-game winning streak of the season. The only other time they won three in a row was Jan. 8-11 on a swing through Western Canada.

The Panthers are coming off wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens.

"I think we've got a great chance," Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. "We're trying to get into that position. We've been battling. You know how you got through stretches? I feel like we're playing good hockey right now.

"There's a sense of urgency getting into the last 25 games here, trying to collect as many points as we can."

The Panthers have made the playoffs four times in their 20-year history, the last time in 2011-12.

Gerard Gallant, named Panthers coach June 21, was asked if they were perhaps ahead of where he thought they might be in his first season.

"After the first 30 games if you asked that I would have said yes, but since then, now that I've gotten to know my team and how we play every night, I think we're where we should be," he said. "We're pushing for that spot and we're real happy."

Campbell credited Gallant's ability to communicate for a productive atmosphere around the Panthers.

"Gerard's good. He's pretty loose himself. He obviously expects hard work, but he doesn't complicate matters too much," Campbell said. "You know what you're getting from him every day, so you're not guessing as a player. You hear about that around the League where guys are guessing and don't know what the coach wants and doesn't want. Here it's a pretty straight line. You know what he wants out of you. You just have to go out and perform and execute."

"We come to the rink every day and we just play a game. We don't worry where we're at," Gallant said. "We just go out and play the game and have some fun. Everybody knows where we're at. You look at the news every day. We're a young team, we're having fun and we're playing well. We've got a chance to find a playoff spot.

"That's what it's been since Day 1. I'm not a guy who’s going to put pressure on people. You go have fun, you play and you do your job. The closer we get, it's not like we're going to tense up."

The Senators, eight points behind the Panthers with a game in hand, are trying to win consecutive games for the first time since Dec. 29-Jan. 3.

With goaltenders Craig Anderson (hand) and Robin Lehner (concussion) out, Andrew Hammond will get his second start. The 27-year-old won his first NHL start Wednesday with 42 saves against the Canadiens in a 4-2 win.

Hammond said he was over the emotion of the victory.

"I've always been a goalie that when the clock hits midnight, the game from that night is over and it's a fresh slate the next day," he said. "I feel like the emotion part of it is kind out of the way now and it's just a matter of going out there and doing my job again tonight."

Forward Matt Puempel will play his first NHL game Saturday. He was the Senators first-round pick (No. 24) in 2011, a year when the Senators had three picks in the first round.

Here are the projected lineups:

PANTHERS

Jussi JokinenNick BjugstadJimmy Hayes

Jonathan HuberdeauAleksander BarkovBrad Boyes

Scottie UpshallDave BollandTomas Fleischmann

Tomas KopeckyDerek MacKenzieShawn Thornton

Brian CampbellAaron Ekblad

Steven KampferErik Gudbranson

Shane O'BrienAlex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Scratched: Sean Bergenheim

Suspended: Dmitry Kulikov

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

SENATORS

Milan Michalek- Kyle TurrisMark Stone

Mike HoffmanMika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan

Matt PuempelDavid LegwandAlex Chiasson

Erik CondraJean-Gabriel PageauCurtis Lazar

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Jared Cowen - Cody Ceci

Patrick WierciochMark Borowiecki

Andrew Hammond

Chris Driedger

Scratched: Eric Gryba

Injured: Craig Anderson (hand), Robin Lehner (concussion), Clarke MacArthur (concussion),

Chris Phillips (back), Zack Smith (wrist), Chris Neil (thumb)

Status report: Senators general manager Bryan Murray said it is unlikely Anderson and Lehner will be on the upcoming five-game road trip, leaving the goaltending to Hammond and Chris Driedger, who was called up from Evansville of the ECHL when Lehner was injured. … With MacArthur out, it's expected the Senators will call up a forward from Binghamton of the American Hockey League for the road trip. … Cameron is continuing to rotate his defensemen. Gryba will be scratched Saturday for the first time since sitting out back-to-back games Jan. 31 and Feb. 3. … Mitchell skated with the scratches Saturday.

Who's hot: Karlsson has a goal and eight assists in his past five games. … Hoffman has three goals and three assists in his past five games. … Condra has a goal and three assists in his past three games. … Fleischmann has a goal and two assists in his past two games.

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