Minnesota Wild Visit Florida Panthers: Game 59 Preview

The Panthers and the Wild both opened the season as surprise success stories, but have each recently found themselves in familiar positions, on their respective conferences playoff fringes. Can Florida salvage a home win after losing their first three?

Florida will be hosting the Minnesota Wild tonight at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise. This is the first of two meetings this season between the teams, and the only game in Florida. The Panthers have a 14-8-7 home record, while the Wild sport a 12-14-5 record away from Minnesota. Florida is in the final game of a four game homestand. They lost to the Ottawa Senators, 6-2, to the Washington Capitals, 2-1 on Friday, and to the Anaheim Ducks, 2-0 on Sunday. The Wild shut out the Boston Bruins in a home game, 2-0 on Sunday, and go on to face the Dallas Stars tomorrow night in Dallas.

The last time the Panthers faced the Wild, Florida skated off with a 2-1 victory. Chris Higgins (3) and Mike Santorelli (3) each scored within 53 seconds of each other in the first eight minutes of the game. Cal Clutterbuck tallied the only marker for Minnesota, a power play goal with three minutes remaining in the first period. Tomas Vokoun earned the Florida victory, stopping 22 of 23 shots, while Jose Theodore allowed both goals on 27 shots for the Wild. Santorelli spoke afterwards about the Panthers third consecutive home victory,

"It was a big start. We came out moving our feet and got two goals and the game tightened up after that," Santorelli said. "It was a hard-fought battle."

Wild @ Panthers 11/12/10 (via NHLVideo)

Florida is coming off their third consecutive home loss, a 2-0 blanking at the hands of Jonas Hiller and the Anaheim Ducks. Hiller stopped all 31 Florida shots, while Jose Theodore took the loss even though he stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced. Teemu Selanne (20) provided all the scoring the Ducks would need with eight minutes remaining in the first period with his 657th career marker, moving him into 12th place on the All-time NHL list. Niklas Hagman (9) added an empty netter to cap the game with 15 seconds remaining. Theodore had a good frame of mind after the loss,

"At this time of year, it's always a tight game and as a goalie I've been around long enough, I know what I need to do," Theodore said. "I prepare myself the same way every night. You want to give your team a chance to win and go out there and work hard and give it everything you've got."

Ducks @ Panthers 02/19/12 (via NHLVideo)

Niklas Backstrom earned a shutout victory against the Boston Bruins, 2-0 on Sunday by stopping all 48 Boston shots. Tim Thomas allowed two goals on 29 shots in taking the loss. Chad Rau (2) scored the game winner half way through the second period, and Matt Cullen (12) added a power play goal five minutes later. The win for Minnesota broke a seven game winless streak. Afterwards, Wild coach Mike Yeo was happy for the victory:

"Am I allowed to smile?" said Wild coach Mike Yeo, whose team also had lost five straight games at home, a club record. "Obviously, Back was outstanding tonight, especially early in the game when they got off to a great start and had a couple of great chances early in the game."

Bruins @ Wild 02/19/12 (via NHLVideo)

Season Series: 0-0-0

All-Time Series: 3-7-1

Game Time: 7:30 ET

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Standings:

Florida Panthers: 27-20-11, 65 points, first Southeast Division, third Eastern Conference, 15th NHL, on pace for 92 points. Last five: W-W-L-L-L, Playoff chances: 67.0%

Minnesota Wild: 26-24-9, 61 points, fourth Northwest Division, 12th Western Conference, 22nd NHL, on pace for 85 points. Last five: L-L-O-L-W Playoff chances: 9.8%

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