SUNRISE – The timing for Nathan Horton’s return could not come at a better time.
Out the past six games with a finger injury, Horton, the Panthers second-leading goal scorer, returns to the lineup tonight at BankAtlantic Center when the Panthers play a critical game against one of the hottest teams in the league in the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I’m really excited,” said Horton, who has 19 goals. “It’s been tough (watching). We’ve got a tough stretch of games and all we know is we can’t afford to lose games. That’s our focus.”
Along with Horton, Nick Boynton will return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past three games. Defenseman Steve Eminger and forwards Anthony Stewart and Nick Tarnasky will be scratched.
Coach Peter DeBoer said he’ll likely continue to juggle his lineup over the final 10 games of the season.
“We’ve lost four of the last five,” he said. “I thought Eminger struggled a little in the last game (a 3-1 loss to Columbus). He’s got some minor injuries he’s dealing with. We’re going to juggle the lineup down the stretch, up front and on the back end, in order to get as much energy and jump as possible.”
DeBoer said he expects Horton to be fresh and ready and help provide the team with offense.
“We don’t have the luxury of working anybody into the lineup slowly, especially a No. 1 center,” he said. “He has to jump back in, give us energy. He’s a goal scorer who can create offense on a team that’s struggled to do that.”
The Panthers (35-27-10) are one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 80 points. A victory tonight would jump them over Montreal for the eighth spot and place them three points behind sixth-place Carolina with two games in hand.
“There’s no must wins until you’re eliminated, but this is as close as you can get to it,” DeBoer said. “We’re bumped right up against it. We’re at a critical point here. We talked this morning. We’ve got 10 games to go, we’re a point out, we’re healthy. I think our fate is in our own hands.
“The bottom line is we’re right where we want to be and we have to take advantage of the situation. If we can’t, if we can’t play above .500 and win some games, we don’t deserve to get in. That’s the bottom line.”
Carolina is 7-1-2 in their last 10 games and 10-3-2 in their last 15. They’re currently on a three-game winning streak and have 13 power-play goals in their last 10 games.
“They’re playing great,” DeBoer said. “They’re playing with confidence, they’re loose, pucks are going in and they’re getting saves at the right time. When you’re on one of those, you can’t do anything wrong.
“We’ve been there before and we know we’re capable of rattling off a 10-game streak like that. And we’ve just got to have one.”
Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice told the News & Observer, “This game (tonight) is an opportunity to further distance ourselves from the ninth-place team.”
Goalie Cam Ward will start his 22nd consecutive game this evening. The Hurricanes will be without Matt Cullen, who has 30 points in his last 30 games but suffered a lower-body injury Saturday against the Capitals. Cullen, who centers Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose, will be replaced tonight by either Rod Brind’Amour or Jussi Jokinen.
BLACKOUT LIFTED, PATHERS-CANES ON NHL CENTER ICE
Channel 629 on Dish Network, 771 on DirecTV and Game 5 on Digital Cable
SUNRISE, Fla. – Sunrise Sports & Entertainment announced today that the National Hockey League will lift its Versus Game of the Week television blackout and allow tonight’s crucial Florida Panthers-Carolina Hurricanes game at the BankAtlantic Center to be televised.
The game can be seen live on the NHL Center Ice Package on channel 629 on Dish Network, 771 on DirecTV and Game 5 on Digital Cable. The game can also be viewed online on Game Center Live on NHL.com. Panthers 790 The Ticket radio announcers Randy Moller and Bill Lindsay will have the call while footage will come from the BankAtlantic Center’s in-house feed.