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Wild begin trip through Florida by facing Panthers

by Brian Hunter
WILD (7-5-2) at PANTHERS (6-7-0)

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

Last 10:
Minnesota 6-3-1; Florida 5-5-0

Season Series:
This is the only meeting of the 2010-11 season between these teams. Michael Frolik and Cory Stillman scored third-period goals and Stillman came through again in the shootout as Florida rallied for a 3-2 win in Minnesota in the most recent matchup on March 9. The Panthers outshot the Wild 31-11 through regulation and overtime.

Big Story: Minnesota currently sits second in the Northwest Division while Florida is fifth in the Southeast. However, the Panthers have a plus-7 goal differential for the season and are coming off a win over the Maple Leafs, while the Wild have a minus-2 goal differential and were soundly beaten by the Thrashers on Thursday.

Team Scope:

Wild: This is the third stop on a four-game road trip for Minnesota, which is playing on back-to-back nights and three times in four days on the southeast portion of its journey. It didn't go smoothly in Atlanta, where the Wild managed just an Antti Miettinen power-play goal in the third period of a 5-1 loss to the Thrashers. It marked the most goals Niklas Backstrom had given up this season -- he'd given up two goals or fewer in nine of his previous 10 starts.

"Sometimes you have to be there to make the save," Backstrom said. "Unfortunately, that wasn't the case tonight. We have to be a lot sharper in our end. Usually, we're very good when it comes to things like that. But we weren't good."

Panthers: A win Friday would give Florida only its second two-game win streak of the season, with the first coming Oct. 14-16 when Tomas Vokoun blanked Calgary and Tampa Bay in back-to-back starts. In Wednesday's 4-1 win over Toronto, Frolik finished with a goal and two assists while Shawn Matthias, who hails from the Toronto area, had a goal and an assist. The Panthers got payback for an earlier 3-1 loss to the Maple Leafs in which Colton Orr's game-winning goal came after a controversial non-call for goalie interference.

"All my buddies, family and friends were probably watching," Matthias said. "It's nice to beat those guys, especially how the last game ended up, and we wanted to win this one for everyone."

Who's Hot: Miettinen scored in his return after missing five games for the Wild due to a concussion. Matt Cullen assisted on the goal and has helpers in three straight. … Frolik has 4 goals and 4 assists during a five-game points streak for the Panthers. Dennis Wideman has an assist in each of the last four games.

Injury Report: Groin injuries have sidelined Minnesota forwards Guillaume Latendresse and Chuck Kobasew and defenseman Marek Zidlicky. Latendresse is currently on injured reserve along with forwards Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) and James Sheppard (knee surgery) and goaltender Josh Harding (torn ACL/MCL).

Stillman (shoulder) and defenseman Jason Garrison (groin) are day-to-day for Florida. Forward Byron Bitz (sports hernia surgery) is on injured reserve.

Stat Pack:
Defenseman Brent Burns leads the Wild with 5 goals and 4 power-play goals. … The Panthers are eighth in the NHL with a 3.08 goals-per-game average after finishing last season 28th at 2.46, better than only the Flames and Bruins.

Puck Drop:
One reason for Florida's offensive improvement has been contributions coming from all around the lineup. Wideman's addition has helped the production from the blue line and Bryan Allen, a defenseman not usually known for his scoring, has 2 goals and 3 assists over his last four games.

"We talked about how our defense is going to have to help our offense. When I said that, Bryan Allen's name wasn't the first to come to mind," coach Peter DeBoer told the Miami Herald. "To his credit, he's shown his versatility. He's tough to play against. He's physical, but it's nice to see him add to things on the other end."

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