Florida battles the Thrashers tonight at the BankAtlantic Center at 7:30pm. There is no local television for this game, but can be seen on Center Ice. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
SUNRISE – The Panthers awoke Friday morning with the realization that its right there for them.
A victory tonight at BankAtlantic Center against the Thrashers and the Panthers will climb into a tie with the Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
With five games remaining and a game in hand over the Rangers heading into tonight’s game, the Panthers can make a huge move in the standings this evening.
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said after Friday morning’s skate there’s no need to remind his players the importance of any game or what it means in the standings.
“These guys know what we have to do,” he said. “They know the importance. They look at the standings. Really, at this point in the year, I really believe your coaching staff takes a step back and really the room handles that type of stuff. You give them a game plan. We’re almost 80 games into this. They know what has to be done.”
The Panthers are on a three-game roll with victories over Philadelphia, Dallas and Ottawa. Goalie Craig Anderson has helped lead the Panthers, stopping 102 of 109 shots in those three victories.
The Thrashers may be out of the playoffs, but they’re one of the league’s hottest teams, winning 11 of their last 15 and 15 of their last 23. Captain Ilya Kovalchuk (41 goals), who’s scored 55 points (28 goals) in 42 career games against the Panthers, will see plenty of action alongside linemates Todd White and Bryan Little.
The Panthers aren’t the only team in the Eastern Conference riding a streak. Carolina has won seven consecutive games and is 10-1-2 in their last 13. Pittsburgh is 13-1-2 in their last 16. The Canadiens are 4-0-1 in their last five.
The Hurricanes scored two goals 28 seconds apart in the third period Thursday evening to beat the Rangers 4-2. Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice gave some of the credit to the sold-out house at the RBC Arena.
“The crowd got us going before we did in the third period and that seemed to be the difference for us,” he said.
The only team in the East battling for a playoff spot that isn’t currently riding a streak is the Rangers, who are 2-3-1 in their last six games and have been outscored 28-11 in the third period since John Tortorella took over behind the bench.
Along with the Panthers key game Friday against the Thrashers, Philadelphia will play host to Toronto and Buffalo is at Washington.
On Saturday, the Rangers visit Boston. Other games with playoff implications Saturday include Montreal at Toronto and Pittsburgh at Carolina.
No local television tonight…Same lineup for the Panthers as Tuesday. That means Anderson in goal and defenseman Steve Eminger and forwards Anthony Stewart and Nick Tarnasky scratched…