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Panthers set for rare meeting with Avs

by Sergei J. Feldman
PANTHERS (21-14-9) at AVALANCHE (24-21-2)

: FS-F, ALT (HD)

Last 10: Florida 3-4-3; Colorado 5-4-1.

Season Series: This will be the only meeting between the squads this season.

Big Story: The Florida Panthers will embark on a three-game road trip at a critical point in the season, as they are fighting for a spot atop the Southeast Division — which they currently hold — with the Washington Capitals. Meanwhile, the Colorado Avalanche are just a point away from the final playoff spot in the tight Western Conference, so a rendezvous with an Eastern Conference club with playoff positioning on the line figures to be incentive enough.

Team Scope:

Panthers — Despite winning just one of the past five games, the Panthers still occupy the top spot in the Southeast Division. When the club skates into Colorado, it will mark the first of a three-game road trip, all against Western Conference foes. A solid road trip could help the Panthers build on their division lead or at least get the team feeling good about their game as the club closes the month of January before the All-Star break. Most recently, the Panthers earned a point in a shootout loss to the Boston Bruins Monday night.

Avalanche — Win some, lose some. That's been the story of late for the Colorado Avalanche, who followed up a two-game win streak to begin the month of January with a two-game skid. That was followed up with an overtime loss, tight win and, most recently, a 6-1 loss to Phoenix. When the Panthers come to town, which Avs team shows up remains to be seen, but after a tough loss, Colorado figures to come out motivated to get back on the winning track. Converting on whatever scoring chances the Avs create will be the key, as the team feels it left some plays on the ice against Phoenix.

"They capitalized on their scoring chances," forward Milan Hejduk said. "We had chances, too, in the second and early third, but the game got away from us and we were just chasing the game."

Who's Hot: The Panthers have had steady offense from the blue line of late, as defenseman Jason Garrison has points in consecutive games, including a tally. Meanwhile, center Ryan O'Reilly and his four points in his past four games have led the way for the Avs.

Injury Report: Ed Jovanovski, Jose Theodore, Marco Sturm, Sean Bergenheim and Jack Skille are all day-to-day for the Panthers, while Shane O'Brien and Mark Oliver have similar fates for Colorado. Also, Matt Duchene remains out indefinitely with a knee injury.

Stat Pack: The Florida Panthers are the only current division-leading club with a minus goals for/against differential (minus-11).

Puck Drop: Colorado will bring to the ice a perfect shootout record, 7-0, which extends to 10 games dating back to last season.
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