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Red Wings look to keep up improved play vs. Panthers

by Brian Hedger

PANTHERS (20-24-7) at RED WINGS (23-18-10)


Last 10: Florida 5-4-1; Detroit 5-4-1

Season series: This will be the fourth of five games between the Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings and last at Joe Louis Arena this season. The Panthers won two of the first three, but the Red Wings won the most recent 4-3 on Dec. 28 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla.

Big story: Detroit's only loss in the past four games was against the St. Louis Blues. In the other three the Red Wings beat the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens to breathe new life into their chase for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Since winning a season-high five games in a row in mid-December, the Panthers have gone 6-7-2 in their past 15 games and sit seventh in the Atlantic Division, nine points behind Detroit and playoff contention.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Florida put up a good fight late in a 3-2 home loss against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night, but it wasn't enough. Prior to the defeat, the Panthers had beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres in back-to-back road games.

Next up is a Red Wings team that, while still dealing with a number of injuries, has beaten Chicago and Montreal in their past two games. A knee injury kept talented rookie Aleksander Barkov out of the game against Colorado and that did nothing for Florida's 30th-ranked power play, which went 0-for-2 and is clicking at just 8.9 percent.

"We beat ourselves early on," said defenseman Tom Gilbert, who assisted on both of Scottie Upshall's goals. "Every team puts on a push when you're down three goals. We were playing pretty desperate [at the end] and it's unfortunate we don't have that mindset early on."

Red Wings: They're still without a number of lineup regulars, including a pair of top-six forwards and starting goaltender Jimmy Howard, but the Red Wings will get forward Johan Franzen back from a concussion Sunday and they've played well in their past two games.

After coming back from a 2-0 hole in the first period to beat the Blackhawks 5-4 in an exciting six-round shootout Wednesday, Detroit beat the Canadiens 4-1 in regulation Friday night. It was a huge victory against the team the Red Wings are chasing for the Atlantic's last guaranteed playoff spot. The question is whether they keep the intensity up against the Panthers.

"The two big wins were huge," said rookie center Riley Sheahan, whose second career NHL goal provided the winning margin against Montreal. "I know the guys are going to get fired up off of [them] and just try to keep it going."

Who's hot: Upshall's goals Friday for the Panthers broke a four-game goalless skid and Gilbert posted two assists for the second straight game. … Detroit's top line of Gustav Nyquist (two goals, two assists), captain Henrik Zetterberg (one goal, four assists) and Justin Abdelkader (three assists) has combined to produce 12 points in the past two games.

Injury report: Florida's Barkov (knee) missed the first game of his NHL career sitting out against Colorado and forward Tomas Kopecky (upper body) missed his third straight game. The Panthers also have defensemen Dylan Olsen (lower body), Alex Petrovic (upper body) and Mike Mottau (upper body) on injured reserve. … Detroit centers Pavel Datsyuk (lower body), Joakim Andersson (lower body) and Cory Emmerton (finger) are on injured reserve along with forwards Stephen Weiss (sports hernia surgery). Howard (knee) is also on IR.

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