SUNRISE – It’s been 22 months since the Panthers met the Dallas Stars, so when the two teams get together tonight at BankAtlantic Center both sides will be playing catch-up while trying to go into the All-Star Break on a positive note.
The Stars are 10-6-3 since Dec. 5 but come into BankAtlantic having blown two-goal advantages in their last two games. The Panthers are humming along, undefeated in regulation in their last eight games (5-0-3) and picking up points in all but five of their last 27 games.
“It would be nice to get the two points and set us up for the second half,” said Radek Dvorak.
The Panthers will go into tonight’s game with the same lineup as Monday when they played well against Buffalo in a 3-2 shootout loss. That means Tomas Vokoun in the net and Noah Welch on the blue line.
Panther coach Peter DeBoer said meeting a team from the Western Conference you haven’t seen in a while takes a bit of extra work.
“You’ve got to spend a little more time breaking down tape and getting tendencies,” he said. You get 40, 45 games into the season and you have a pretty good handle on the teams in your division (and) conference. (Video coach) Jamie Pringle was up late last night getting a handle on those guys.”
Tonight’s game will mark the last for the Panthers before the weekend All-Star Break. They return to work Monday at IncredibleIce but won’t play again until Tuesday when they play host to Philadelphia.
DeBoer compared tonight’s game to their game Dec. 23 before the Christmas break. The Panthers beat Nashville that evening at BankAtlantic Center 3-0. It’s also the last of a four-game segment beginning Jan. 16 that DeBoer wanted to be over .500. Through games against the Flyers, Lightning and Sabres, the Panthers are 1-0-2 with four points.
“It’s a critical two points,” said DeBoer, whose Panthers are currently ninth in the Eastern Conference and fighting for that final playoff spot with Buffalo, Carolina and Pittsburgh. “We’re .500 through those four games with four points in the bank, and .500 isn’t going to get you a playoff spot down the stretch. This is a small segment of games we wanted to focus on and try to make sure we’re above .500 and we have a chance to do that tonight.”
Dvorak said the Panthers know the importance of tonight’s game.
“We came out short a point against Buffalo, but we played a very good game,” he said. “Everyone knows this is a huge couple points for us. We just have to make sure we win the first 60 minutes.”
The Stars, led offensively by Loui Eriksson (22 goals, 32 points) and Mike Modano (13 goals, 28 points), come into tonight’s game off two tough losses. They lost 4-2 Monday in Tampa after holding a 2-1 lead heading into the third period, and lost Thursday 5-4 in the shootout against Buffalo after holding a 3-1 lead after two. The Stars’ power-play on the road is a league-worst 11.3 percent (11-for-97).
Ville Peltonen practiced with the team Tuesday at IncredibleIce and Wednesday at BankAtlantic but will sit out due to a bruised knee.
“He’s close,” DeBoer said of Peltonen. “If we were in a do-or-die situation or the playoffs, he would probably gut it out. But from a risk management point of view – with five, six days off between now and our next game – he still has some soreness so it doesn’t make a lot of sense without it.”
The Panthers, 2-6 in shootouts this season, practiced shootouts Wednesday morning during the end of the morning skate at Tuesday at IncredibleIce. DeBoer said he isn’t panicking about the team’s results, but didn’t rule out letting opposing teams start the shootouts in the future.
“We’ve gone first because the (statistics) and tendencies say the team that shoots first usually wins, especially if you score first,” he said. “It hasn’t worked, so maybe it’s time to start bucking mathematics and go with something else.
“It’s a lot like the power play or penalty kill. You go through slumps and we have to find a way to get out of it.”
BOOTH, HORTON, ZEDNIK
David Booth enters tonight’s game off his best performance of the season against Buffalo. Booth and linemates Nathan Horton and Richard Zednik have played well the past two games, combining for nine points (three goals).
“You try to find complimentary players,” DeBoer said. “David gets in on the forecheck and disrupts things. He’s hard on the puck, causes turnovers, and those two guys (Horton and Zednik) are opportunists. If they get a chance they’ll create offense. David has played great, but give (Horton and Zednik) credit, too. They’ve really started to play well. They’re doing the little things well, and chipping in offensively.
DeBoer was scheduled to meet with doctors and the training staff today to decide whether Rostislav Olesz will need surgery. The left winger hasn’t played since Dec. 6. DeBoer said it would appear doctors are leaning toward a “surgical procedure.”