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Battling The Champs

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
The Panthers take on the Wings at the BankAtlantic Center for the first time since 2005. Last year, Florida lost a 5-2 affair in Detroit. (AP Photo/Jerry S. Mendoza)
By Dave Joseph for

In coach Peter DeBoer’s words, the Panthers play tonight at the BankAtlantic Center against “arguably, the best team in the world.”

The defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings visit the BankAtlantic Center tonight at 7:30 p.m., for what will be the Panthers’ biggest test of the season. Trying to stretch their winning streak to three for the first time this season, the Panthers will play a Red Wings team that is 10-2-3 and an offense that is currently the second-most explosive squad in the league.

And DeBoer made it clear what the consequences could be if the Panthers don’t play a sound, smart game.

“If you don’t show up to play (the Red Wings) – and we talked about it in the morning meeting – this is a team that will make you look really bad and embarrass you,” he said.

Coming off a 4-3 victory Thursday in Tampa, the Red Wings are 7-1-1 on the road this season and have the league’s top-ranked power play both home and away. The roster is a who’s who of All-Stars, including Marian Hossa (8 goals, 13 assists), Henrik Zetterberg (10 goals), Nicklas Lidstrom (10 assists) and Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom.

The Wings are loaded with skill, but they’re certainly not afraid of finishing their checks and banging in the corners and in front of the net.

“For me, watching them on tape, their players, even their skilled players, play the game the right way,” DeBoer said. “They backcheck as hard as they forecheck. They win a lot of puck battles and they have a group of guys who are always around the net and score those goals in those dirty areas of the rink, in the blue paint and around the crease.”

Goalie Craig Anderson, who’s stopped 68 of the last 69 shots he’s faced while beating Anaheim and Tampa, will be in goal. Forward Radek Dvorak, who missed Wednesday’s game with a hamstring, will be back in the lineup. Gregory Campbell, who scored two goals against the Lightning, will be a game-time decision due to a lingering hand injury.

DeBoer said the Panthers continue moving forward and have been helped by the fact he’s been able to skate six healthy defensemen throughout the past two games.

“You see a direct result from our specialty teams,” DeBoer said. “We have fresher defensemen on the ice. The penalty kill is better as a result, our power play is better as a result. Not just the fact we’re scoring some goals, but we’re getting offensive zone time and quality shots. It’s a direct result of being healthy back there and having fresh guys on the ice.”

Goalie Tomas Vokoun, who missed Thursday’s practice, made it through Friday’s morning skate as he continues to improve from minor back and hip issues.

“The back is much better,” Vokoun said. “There’s still a bit of an issue with the hip, but I just have to keep getting treatments and, hopefully, it will get better.”

Vokoun said the problem started with his hip.

“For a couple weeks I had a bad hip and I think it kind of went a little bit into my back,” he said. “It was really hard for me to move (during Wednesday’s morning skate). It was on the same side as the hip…all those things are kind of related. With the hip sore, you try to substitute a little bit with your back muscles when you move… I think (during) that long flight (from California), you really stiffen up and you end up in that sitting position all that time.”

Vokoun said he’ll be ready when its his time.

“We’re playing good, Andy (Craig Anderson) is playing great,” Vokoun added. “This is a team sport and we’re here for winning. It’s a long season and a long haul in how we get judged. I’ll do my work out there (on the ice) and be ready.”
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