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Panthers' push for playoff berth continues vs. Wild

by Brian Hunter
PANTHERS (37-24-15) at WILD (31-35-10)

TV: FS-F (HD), FS-N (HD), FS-WI (HD)

Last 10:
Florida 6-1-3; Minnesota 3-7-0

Season Series: Second and final meeting between these cross-conference opponents. Minnesota claimed a 3-2 win in Florida via the shootout on Feb. 23, with Erik Christensen and Matt Cullen scoring in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.

Big Story:
Having picked up at least a point in nine of their last 10 games, the Panthers are moving closer to ending the NHL's longest active playoff drought and winning the first division title in franchise history. They lead the Capitals by five points in the Southeast and hold a game in hand.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Tuesday's results pushed Florida a step closer toward achieving its goals, as the Panthers extended their lead with a 3-2 shootout win over the Canadiens combined with the Capitals' 5-1 loss to the Sabres. At this point, Washington is scrambling just to get back into the top eight. Scott Clemmensen improved to 6-0 career against Montreal by making 27 saves and Wojtek Wolski had the only goal of the skills competition. The Panthers rallied from a one-goal deficit in the third to force overtime on Mikael Samuelsson's 12th of the season.

"Playing teams that are beneath us in the standings, especially those that are out of the playoffs, we feel we should get two points no matter what," Clemmensen said. "So even though we played a solid game we weren't going to be satisfied without the two points."

Wild: With six games left in the season, Minnesota is set to give a look to Jason Zucker, its second-round pick in 2010, who signed an entry-level contract Tuesday shortly after completing his sophomore season at the University of Denver. Opening up a three-game homestand Tuesday against the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers, Minnesota erased a pair of one-goal deficits on power-play goals by Kyle Brodziak and Mikko Koivu and entered the third period all tied up. But Ruslan Fedotenko scored with 6:23 remaining to deal the Wild a 3-2 defeat.

"It's just the little mental lapses we've got to get rid of," Brodziak said, adding: "We have a jersey to represent, and we have fans that come out and support us and there's a lot of reasons to keep playing and keep working as hard as we can."

Who's Hot:
Jose Theodore, who is expected to start in goal for the Panthers, has a 4-1-3 record with a .947 save percentage in his last eight starts, allowing two goals or less seven times. … Brodziak has 3 goals and 5 assists in his last six games for the Wild and reached 20 goals in a season for the first time.

Injury Report:
Florida is without forwards Matt Bradley (upper body) and Jack Skille (shoulder). … Minnesota lost Cullen for the season after he broke his finger blocking a shot Saturday against Buffalo and required surgery. Defensemen Justin Falk (leg) and Jared Spurgeon (concussion) and forward Matt Kassian (groin) are out indefinitely.

Stat Pack: Panthers center Shawn Matthias won 80 percent of his faceoffs (12 of 15) while skating in his 200th NHL game. … The Wild have moved up to 24th in the League on the power play (15.6 percent) after a recent 5-for-13 hot streak.

Puck Drop:
Zucker finished with 22 goals and 46 points in 38 games this season for the Pioneers. His 9 power-play goals were tied for ninth in the nation. Pending a physical that was scheduled for Wednesday, he's expected to be in the lineup against Florida.

"In college, he was a first-line player who scored goals," Minnesota general manager Chuck Fletcher told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I hope there's elements of both of that in his game, but time will tell. He can shoot the puck, he skates well and he's got a strong work ethic. But right now he's a 20-year-old prospect who's got a lot to learn."

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