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Panthers finish off road trip facing surging Sharks

by Brian Hunter /
PANTHERS (13-8-4) at SHARKS (14-7-1)


Last 10:
Florida 5-4-1; San Jose 7-3-0

Season series:
This is the only meeting on the 2011-12 schedule between these teams. Jason Garrison, who has become a goal-scoring sensation on the Florida defense this season, scored the game-winning goal with 2:01 remaining for a 3-2 win over San Jose in the most recent matchup on Feb. 13 at BankAtlantic Center.

Big story: Even though the Panthers haven't exactly been tearing it up of late, the teams behind them in the Southeast Division have also struggled -- most notably, the four-time defending champion Capitals -- and so Florida enters the weekend with a five-point lead. The Sharks, meanwhile, have a shot at claiming a share of the lead in the Pacific depending on how various games play out Saturday.

Team Scope:

Panthers: This is the final stop on a four-game road trip for Florida, which will be aiming for a split. Sean Bergenheim was the focal point of the Panthers' 2-1 loss to the Kings on Thursday. He cut a two-goal deficit in half by scoring with 4:21 left in the second, then his crunching hit on Mike Richards during his following shift led to a four-minute power play after Richards and Jarret Stoll of the Kings retaliated, and Richards didn't return for the third period. The Panthers put 42 shots on Jonathan Quick, but only Bergenheim solved him.

"He made big saves all night and we just didn't have an answer," forward Stephen Weiss told the Miami Herald. "We'll regroup and hopefully have the same effort against San Jose, just get some bounces. We had great chances all night. They just weren't going in. The other night in Carolina we didn't have our best game by any means, but we got a bounce and won the game. Those things happen. We got a lot of positive out of tonight, that's for sure."

A four-game homestand got off to a scintillating start for San Jose on Thursday, as Ryane Clowe and Joe Pavelski helped rally the Sharks past the Canadiens, 4-3, in a shootout. Clowe was responsible for tying the score with 1:26 left in regulation and Pavelski beat Carey Price in the sixth round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker. Clowe, who earlier assisted on a Logan Couture goal that wiped out one of Montreal's three one-score leads in the contest, had gone 10 games without a tally.

"It was a play we focus on a little bit in practice -- with the shot and drive the net," Clowe told the San Jose Mercury News of his 14-foot wrister on the rebound of a shot by Couture. "Sometimes it seems like an innocent shot off the wing, but that's what you're shooting for, the rebound."

Who's hot:
Panthers goalie Jose Theodore has a 2-1-1 record and .942 save percentage over his last four starts. … Reunited as linemates, Clowe and Couture combined for 2 goals, 2 assists, a plus-4 rating and 11 shots for the Sharks on Thursday.

Injury report: Florida forward Kris Versteeg broke his nose earlier in the week and missed Thursday's game, but the team's leading scorer expects to return to the lineup Saturday. Forwards Mikael Samuelsson (groin), Scottie Upshall (upper body), Matt Bradley (upper body) and Marcel Goc (concussion-like symptoms) are on injured reserve. … San Jose defenseman Colin White, who has been away from the team for person reasons, could be available. Goalies Antero Niittymaki (hip) and Alex Stalock (knee) remain on injured reserve.

Stat pack:
Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson, the No. 3 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, recorded his first NHL point Thursday with an assist on Bergenheim's goal. … Sharks forward Patrick Marleau led the team in November with 8 goals, including 3 power-play goals and 2 game-winning tallies.

Puck drop:
San Jose has won four straight in this series at the Shark Tank, outscoring Florida 18-3 in the process.

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