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Panthers look to rebound as Predators pay visit

by Brian Hunter
PREDATORS (37-20-7) at PANTHERS (30-21-12)

TV: FS-Tennessee, FS-Florida

LAST 10:
Nashville 5-3-2; Florida 5-4-1

Season Series:
This is the only meeting of the season between the Predators and Panthers. They faced each other twice during the 2010-11 campaign, with the home team winning each time. Anders Lindback stopped 22 shots for his first NHL shutout in Nashville's 3-0 win on Dec. 11, 2010, while Scott Clemmensen made 27 saves and Florida rallied for a pair of third-period goals for a 3-2 victory on Jan. 13, 2011.

Big Story:
While this isn't exactly a heated rivalry between teams that don't see a whole lot of one another, the points available are crucial to both sides. Nashville is still in the running for the Central Division title, six points behind Detroit and St. Louis, but with two games left against the Red Wings and a game remaining with the Blues, in addition to a game in hand. Florida, meanwhile, has both Winnipeg and Washington on its heels in the Southeast race, and is coming off getting routed by the Jets on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Predators: Not long after adding defenseman Hal Gill to its lineup, Nashville acquired two more players prior to Monday's trade deadline, forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad. An upper-body injury kept Gaustad from making his debut Tuesday night in Carolina, but Kostitsyn logged over 12 minutes of ice time. The Predators took a pair of one-goal leads thanks to rookie Craig Smith and third-year forward Colin Wilson, but the Hurricanes rallied to deal them a 4-3 loss with Lindback giving Pekka Rinne a rare breather and making 29 saves.

"We almost pulled it out," coach Barry Trotz said. "We were urgent in the third period and played more of our game. We've played five games in eight nights and we were really tired. That's no excuse, but sometimes you get tired mentally and you don't have the juice. In the end, it ended up being the special teams that made the difference."

The more important number to come out of the game in Winnipeg was four, the swing in points that occurred by the Jets beating the Panthers instead of vice versa, but the embarrassing number for Florida was seven, as in a 7-0 defeat at the hands of their new division rival. The Jets scored a pair of goals 2:03 apart early in the first period, but the Panthers stayed in the game heading into the third, only to watch everything fall apart over the final 20 minutes. Florida still has three games in hand on Winnipeg, which is two points out in the Southeast, but is even in games with Washington, which sits just three points back.

"We had lots of turnovers and they ended up in our net," coach Kevin Dineen said. "You can't play that kind of hockey in October, and you certainly can't play it in March. It's definitely a man's game this time of year, and we did not look prepared."

Who's Hot:
Wilson has 3 goals in his last four games for the Predators. Patric Hornqvist has 3 goals in his last five. Rinne is 4-0-1 in his last five starts and has given up two goals or fewer in seven straight. … Stephen Weiss has 3 goals in his last three games for the Panthers.

Injury Report: Nashville defenseman Kevin Klein is expected to miss a third straight game Saturday due to undisclosed reasons. Gaustad practiced Thursday. Forward Brian McGrattan (upper body) is on injured reserve. … Florida forward Kris Versteeg (lower body) has missed the past two games. Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and forwards Scottie Upshall (sports hernia) and Matt Bradley (upper body) are on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Smith has scored 8 of his 12 goals this season on the road. … The Panthers had a three-game winning streak snapped for the fourth time this season on Thursday.

Puck Drop: This is the conclusion of a brief two-game road trip against Eastern Conference competition for Nashville, which will have just one game remaining against an East club (March 22 at Pittsburgh) after Saturday. Florida will still have a three-game road trip against the West to endure at the end of March into April, where it will take on Minnesota, Columbus and Detroit.

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