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Panthers pay rare visit to Colorado

by Eric Goodman

PANTHERS (27-28-10) at AVALANCHE (37-23-6)

Last 10 -- Florida 3-6-1; Colorado 6-4-0

Season series -- This is the second and final game between these cross-conference clubs. Florida surrendered a 5-3 lead in the final minute of regulation back on Dec. 2 at BankAtlantic Center, but won 6-5 in a shootout.

Big story -- The Panthers look to extend their current winning streak to four games, while attempting to claw their way into the playoff picture. They will visit Pepsi Center for the first time since Feb. 6, 2007, when they lost 5-4 in overtime. The last time Florida won a game at Colorado was on Jan. 2, 2003. The Avs (80 points) have dropped two of their last three games, but are still sixth in the West.

Team Scope:

Panthers -- Tuesday night's 3-2 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild was a bit of a shocker for Florida, considering that the Panthers gave up two goals on only four shots in the first period. But they managed to hold the Wild to only seven shots over the next 45 minutes to set a club record for lowest shots against at 11. Michael Frolik and Cory Stillman scored in the third period and Stillman won it with the lone goal in the shootout. It was the 500th victory in the history of the Panthers' franchise.

"We played a good game, and I thought we deserved two points," coach Peter DeBoer said after the game. "It was a good team effort. We stuck to our system and stuck to our game plan, kept grinding away even though we weren't getting rewarded for it. We finally got a couple."

Avalanche -- Colorado has alternated playoff appearances since missing the postseason in 2006-07 so, according to this pattern, they should be heading back there in 2010. However, the Avs would prefer wrapping up their three-game homestand with a victory -- after beating St. Louis 7-3 on Saturday, they blew a 4-1 lead and lost 6-4 to Vancouver on Tuesday night -- a game that could have pulled them even in points with the Northwest Division-leading Canucks.

"(Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo) made some big saves for them but, bottom line, we got away from our game. That's what ultimately allowed them to get back in it," defenseman John-Michel Liles said.

Who's hot -- For Florida, Stillman is in the midst of a four-game scoring streak, totaling 2 goals and 3 assists in that span. Calder Trophy candidate Matt Duchene scored twice for the Avs on Tuesday and has five points over his last four games.

Injury report -- Nathan Horton (fractured leg) is on injured reserve for the Panthers. ... Avs forwards David Jones (knee) and David Koci (hand) are on injured reserve, while forwards Brandon Yip (shoulder) and Ruslan Salei (torso) are also out.

Stat pack -- Panthers' center Stephen Weiss needs two more goals to total 100 in his NHL career.

Puck drop -- One look at the League standings and it becomes very apparent who needs to win this game more. Considering that the Panthers have been the hotter team over the last few games, it will be interesting to see if they can carry that momentum into Pepsi Center. When teams play an inter-conference game, they can usually afford to leave with just one point but, at this point, almost every game down the stretch for the Panthers must be won in regulation.

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