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Pittsburgh vs. Florida Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (35-26-6-76) vs. Florida Panthers (34-24-8-76)

Where: Mellon Arena
When: Tuesday, March 10, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: The Penguins are 1-1-0 against Florida on the season. The Panthers prevailed, 6-1, in the previous game at Mellon Arena Jan. 3. Pittsburgh triumphed in the previous matchup, 4-1, in Florida March 5.



  Pens vs. Panthers 3/5
    Trib Total Media Minute 
Sidney Crosby
Coach Bylsma
Jordan Staal
Bill Guerin
Max Talbot
60 Minutes: Pittsburgh put together its best start-to-finish performance under interim head coach Dan Bylsma in the previous game at Florida, a 4-1 Penguins’ triumph. Bylsma called it the team’s best “60-minute effort.” Pittsburgh must execute in similar fashion to overcome a desperate Panthers team.

First 40: The Florida Panthers have one of the best shutdown defenses in the NHL. Florida is 24-1-1 when leading after two periods. The Penguins don’t want to play from behind in the third period. It would behoove Pittsburgh to get off to a good start. 
After seven straight postseason-less years, the Florida Panthers find themselves in the midst of a cluster of teams battling to make the NHL playoffs. The Panthers treaded water through the first three months of the season. Then the team exploded in January. Florida lost only one regulation contest in an 11-game stretch (7-1-3). The impressive run catapulted the Panthers into the playoff conversation and has created a palpable sense that the drought may be broken.
Florida traded captain Olli Jokinen to Phoenix for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton before the season. The Panthers added blueliner Bryan McCabe and forward Cory Stillman in the offseason. In the lone trade deadline transaction, Florida shipped former Penguin Noah Welch and a third-round pick to Tampa Bay for Steve Eminger. The biggest deadline move was not trading Jay Bouwmeester (see Player Spotlight).
The Panthers received bad news when they learned that forward Nathan Horton will miss a few weeks after having surgery to repair a severed tendon on his left ring finger. Horton is third on the team in scoring with 38 points on 19 goals and 19 assists. He was centering the team’s second line with Stillman and Richard Zednik. Stillman is fourth on the squad with 37 points (13G-24A), while the veteran Zednik has chipped in with 29 points.

Florida’s best line this season has been the David Booth-Stephen Weiss-Michael Frolik combination. Weiss tops the club in scoring (48 points) and assists (37). Booth has a team-best 24 goals to go with his 18 assists for 42 points. Meanwhile, the rookie Frolik has netted 17 goals and 34 points at 21 years old.
The Panthers have the eighth-ranked defense in the NHL, allowing only 2.71 goals per game. Jay Bouwmeester is fifth on the team in scoring with 35 points. He’s netted 13 goals and has been a shutdown presence on the blue line. McCabe has been a great addition to the club. The defender has contributed 33 points (12G-21A) to the cause but won’t play against Pittsburgh with a broken orbital bone.

Ballard, who was the key to the Jokinen trade, leads the Panthers D with a plus-11 rating while registering 28 points. Steve Eminger was a great pickup for Florida. The former first-round pick will be suiting up for his fourth team in a year (Washington, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Florida). Eminger collected 23 points before the Lightning sent him to the Panthers and he’s hoping to finally find a home in the Florida.
Last year, Tomas Vokoun played well in his first season with Florida. He faced more shots (2,213) than anyone else in the National Hockey League but still won 30 games and posted a .919 save percentage. Vokoun has carried the load for the Panthers this season. He’s posted a 22-18-3 mark with a 2.47 goals against average and .926 save percentage, second best in the NHL. His six shutouts are tied for the second most in the league.

Craig Anderson, a career backup, is having the best season of his career. He boasts a 12-6-0 record with a 2.88 GAA and .923 save percentage, fourth highest in the league.
Jay Bouwmeester is the rarest breed of NHL defensemen. He’s huge (6-foot-4, 212 pounds), strong and powerful. He uses his size and reach to take away opponents time and space. His positioning technique is sound and he will clear the front of his net. The third-overall pick in the 2002 draft, Bouwmeester also possesses a violent slap shot and soft hands when carrying the puck.

Florida had a difficult decision at the trade deadline on whether or not to deal the All-Star blueliner. Bouwmeester is an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Panthers don’t want to lose a player of his caliber and get nothing in return. However, Florida chose to keep him and make a playoff push. If the Panthers make the playoffs and Bouwmeester re-signs, Florida will look like geniuses. But if the team misses the postseason and Bouwmeester walks, it will be a long, muggy summer in Miami.
“When it rains it pours. We talked about it this morning. The last time we were in this situation we responded well. We upped our desperation and battle level.”
- Panther coach Peter DeBoer on losing Horton and McCabe
Panthers Official Website

> Florida has three players from the top-12 picks in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft on the current roster: Jay Bouwmeester (3rd), Keith Ballard (11th) and Steve Eminger (12th).

> Florida is 24-1-1 when leading after two periods.

Author: Sam Kasan

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