CORAL SPRINGS – The Panthers were granted a reprieve Saturday afternoon in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The question is what are they going to do with it Sunday at BankAtlantic Center?
The Panthers will take to the ice Sunday at 5 p.m., against the Penguins still only two points behind the eighth-place Rangers, who lost 1-0 Saturday to the Bruins.
Veteran forward Radek Dvorak called Friday’s 3-1 defeat to the Thrashers “a tough loss.”
“But good teams come back from that,” he said after Saturday’s practice here at IncredibleIce. “(Sunday) there’s a big two points on the line.”
The Panthers, who have a game in hand on the Rangers, remain in the thick of the playoff hunt despite winning only nine of their last 20 games. While the Panthers can tie the Rangers in points this afternoon, they fell Saturday night five points behind seventh-place Montreal, who beat the Maple Leafs 6-2.
In other games Saturday night with playoff implications:
The Hurricanes beat the Penguins in overtime 3-2. The Hurricanes moved into a fourth place tie with Philadelphia, who lost in a shootout to Ottawa.
The Sabres, 10th in the Eastern Conference with 85 points, failed to make up any ground Saturday on the Panthers when they lost to the Devils 3-2.
So it looks like this:
4: Philly – 95 points, four games left
5: Carolina – 95 points, three games left
6: Penguins – 93 points, four games left
7: Canadiens – 92 points, four games left
8: Rangers – 89 points, three games left
9: Panthers – 87 points, four games left
10: Sabres – 85 points, four games left
For the Panthers, their best chance of making the playoffs since 2000? Do something they haven’t all year – win four consecutive games.
“I don’t go in thinking about it like that,” said goaltender Tomas Vokoun about winning all four games. “It’s more about us just playing our game and trying to win every game we can.”
The Panthers will start that process Sunday at 5 p.m., against the Penguins with a major change to their lineup with Vokoun back in goal.
After going with Craig Anderson in the previous four consecutive games in goal, DeBoer announced Saturday Vokoun would be back in net Sunday.
DeBoer, who gave Vokoun, the highest paid player on the team, the hook after a 5-3 loss March 25 in Buffalo, said it’s the veteran’s “opportunity to run with it.”
“It’s about wins right now,” DeBoer said. “I thought (Anderson) played well (Friday). We didn’t support him with a lot of offense. But we have to get wins.
“We wouldn’t be in this situation without the way Tomas played for two months. He’s got an opportunity to bring it home for us. (Vokoun’s) our money guy and we wouldn’t be here without him. He has a chance over the last four games to really step in and get us a playoff spot.”
Vokoun, 23-22-6 with a .925 save percentage and 2.49 goals against, has six shutouts on the season. He’s 5-7-2 during his career against the Penguins with a 2.70 goals against and .916 save percentage.
“I haven’t played in a few games so it’s nice to get back on the ice,” Vokoun said. “Obviously, it’s a tough situation when you don’t play.”
Vokoun said no matter who’s in the lineup Sunday, the Panthers are well aware of their situation going into the last week of the regular season.
“We all know what the situation is,” he added. “I don’t think we have to talk about it much. We have to basically win the rest of the games we have. It’s not going to be easy but nothing is easy in this league, and that’s why it’s the best league in the world.”MIX AND MATCH
As he did in Friday’s loss, DeBoer mixed his forward lines at Saturday’s practice. Going into the Penguins' game, the lines will start as:
Nathan Horton, Richard Zednik, David BoothStephen Weiss
, Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak
Gregory Campbell, Ville Peltonen, Rostislav Olesz
Kamil Kreps, Brett McLean, Michael Frolik
Shaking up the lines, DeBoer said, is “the first thing a coach has at his disposal.”
“We’ve gotten back to some combinations that have worked in the past,” he added. “We don’t have the luxury of time work through things. We have to get wins…it’s a way of creating desperation in your lineup.”QUICK TURNAROUND FOR PENS
The Penguins will be back on the ice Sunday at BankAtlantic less than 24 hours after losing Friday at Carolina. The Hurricanes clinched their first playoff berth since 2006.
The Penguins are 5-5 in the second of back-to-back games and are 13-2-2 in their last 17 games
Going into Saturday’s game against the Hurricanes, Pittsburgh’s power play was ranked 22nd in the league, it’s penalty kill 14th. The Panthers power play is 24th, its penalty kill 10th.SCOREBOARD WATCHING
The Rangers return home and will play host to the Canadiens Tuesday in a pivotal game at Madison Square Garden. They’ll end the season with a home-and-home series against the Flyers – Thursday in New York and Sunday afternoon in Philly.
“Obviously, we know where we’re at and how important every game is,” Rangers captain Chris Drury told NewYorkRangers.com Saturday. “We’ve got to let go of this one and get ready for Tuesday.”
Montreal faces Ottawa on Monday. Then after facing the Rangers, the Canadiens will finish the season Thursday in Boston and Saturday at home against the Penguins.