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Road-warrior Panthers battle resurgent Blues

by Dave Lozo
PANTHERS (9-5-3) at BLUES (9-7-1)


Last 10:
Florida 5-2-3; St. Louis 6-3-1

Season Series: This is the first and only meeting. The Blues won the only matchup last season 2-1 in Florida on Feb. 8.

Big Story: Both teams are coming into this game on hot streaks. The Panthers have won three of four and have earned at least a point in seven of eight. The Blues are 3-0-1 since Ken Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne as coach.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Kevin Dineen's squad is 7-3-0 on the road after dismantling the Dallas Stars 6-0 on Tuesday. The Panthers didn't win their seventh road game last season until Dec. 9, 2010 and finished 14-24-3 away from Sunrise.

"I just think we're more relaxed on the road, for whatever reason," said forward Stephen Weiss, who had 1 goal and 2 assists and was a plus-6 against the Stars. "I think we're a little cute at home and not as good defensively as we are on the road. Maybe that's because we've got a lot of new guys and we want to put on a show for the fans."

One of the areas that needed improving when Hitchcock took over was the penalty kill, which sat in the bottom five of the NHL. It got the job done against the Red Wings in a 2-1 win Tuesday.

The PK unit went 6-for-6 and is 16-for-18 (88.8 percent) in four games under Hitchcock.

"It was big," said defenseman Barret Jackman, talking of a five-minute major the Blues needed to kill after Chris Stewart boarded Niklas Kronwall. "We had a lot of guys going over the boards and helping kill that five minutes. Everyone had their legs going and we had the building as loud as it was there. Killing a 5-on-4 for five minutes, that's a big momentum swing for us."

Stewart received a three-game suspension for the Kronwall hit, it was announced Wednesday.

Who's Hot: Florida's Kris Versteeg has been rejuvenated in South Florida, with 4 goals and 3 assists in his last three games and 9 goals and 11 assists in 17 games this season. … Blues goaltender Brian Elliot is 3-0 in his last three starts, stopping 68 of 71 shots in the process.

Injury Report: The Panthers have lost Scottie Upshall (hip) for 6-8 weeks. Jack Skille (lower-body) is likely to get back in the lineup. … Blues defenseman Kent Huskins had successful surgery Wednesday on the broken foot he suffered at the end of October and will be re-evaluated in eight weeks.

Stat Pack: With 7 goals in 17 games, Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison has matched the goal total from the first 118 games of his career. He's on pace for 34 goals this season, 3 more than the Caps' Mike Green had in 2008-09.

Puck Drop:
"All our penalty kill has dug in in a good way," Hitchcock said. "I've said this before: Power plays can win you hockey games, but for sure, poor penalty killing can lose you hockey games every night. We're winning because our penalty killing is doing a great job. But we've got to take fewer penalties. Our angles are too sharp, too direct. We've got to do a better job."
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