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Pittsburgh vs. Panthers Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (42-27-9-93) at Florida Panthers (38-29-11-87)

Where: BankAtlantic Center
Sunday, April 5, at 5 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series:
The Penguins are 2-1-0 against Florida on the season. Pittsburgh triumphed in the previous matchup, 4-1, in Florida on March 5.



  Pens vs. Panthers 3/10

Eye On The Prize: The Penguins are one victory away from pulling off one of the most dramatic turnaround's in team history. After dwelling in the 10-spot in the Eastern Conference, Pittsburgh's recent 12-1-3 run has them two points shy of earning a postseason berth. Locking up a playoff spot should be motivation enough for the Penguins to put forth their best effort.
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. The Panthers struggled through February and March and are currently on the outside looking in as the ninth seed Eastern Conference. The Panthers are two points behind eighth-place New York Rangers.
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 (more below).
Florida’s best line this season has been the David Booth-Stephen Weiss-Michael Frolik combination. Weiss tops the club in scoring (56 points) and assists (42). Booth has a team-best 27 goals to go with his 26 assists for 53 points. Meanwhile, the rookie Frolik has netted 20 goals and 41 points at 21 years old.

Nathan Horton had been centering the second line alongside Richard Zednik and Cory Stillman. Horton is second on the team with 21 goals despite playing in only 63 games. Stillman is third on the squad in scoring with 47 points (16G-31A), while the veteran Zednik has chipped in with 33 points.

Head coach Peter DeBoer mixed his forward lines at Saturday’s practice. Going into the Penguins' game, the lines will start as:

Nathan Horton, Richard Zednik, David Booth
Stephen Weiss, Cory Stillman, Radek Dvorak
Gregory Campbell, Ville Peltonen, Rostislav Olesz
Kamil Kreps, Brett McLean, Michael Frolik
The Panthers have the 11th-ranked defense in the NHL, allowing only 2.73 goals per game. Jay Bouwmeester is sixth on the team in scoring with 39 points. He’s netted 15 goals and has been a shutdown presence on the blue line. McCabe has been a great addition to the club. The defender has contributed 35 points (13G-22A) to the cause.

Ballard, who was the key to the Jokinen trade, leads the Panthers D with a plus-13 rating while registering 33 points. Steve Eminger was a great pickup for Florida. The former first-round pick is suiting up for his fourth team in a year and third in one season (Washington, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, 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 23-22-6 mark with a 2.49 goals against average and .925 save percentage, second best in the NHL. Vokoun sat the four previous games but will start against the Penguins.

Craig Anderson, a career backup, is having the best season of his career. He boasts a 15-7-5 record with a 2.71 GAA and .924 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.
''We've gone back to some combinations that have worked in the past.  It's that time of year where you search, but you're not married to anything. You can change on the fly if something is not working.''
- Florida head coach Peter DeBoer
> Florida has allowed the most shots on goal this season with 34.7 per game.

> The Panthers are 23-10-4 when scoring first and 15-19-7 when surrendering the first goal.

Author: Sam Kasan

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