The Carolina Hurricanes visit the Panthers tonight at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida at 7:30 PM ET. It's the final game of the regular season for the Panthers, and the last chance at glory for the visiting Canes after a disappointing season. All 30 teams will be in action today as the season closes out, all 16 playoff teams are locked in, the only thing to be decided is the final seeding. If the Panthers lose in regulation and the Capitals beat the New York Rangers, then Florida will be relegated to the eighth seed. If either of those things don't happen, Florida will win the division title and face the New Jersey Devils with home ice as the three seed.
This is the final of six meetings this year between the two teams, with Florida winning 3-1 in November, 3-2 in overtime in December, again 3-2 in a shootout in February, a 2-0 victory on March 11th and a 3-1 loss 10 days later. Florida has a 20-9-11 (.638) home record, the Canes are 13-18-9 (.438) on the road.
Florida has lost eight of nine games after winning five in a row, but can still boast points in 11 of their last 14 matches. Carolina started the season out with a 9-18-5 record, and have posted a 24-14-11 record since. They roll into town on a two game winning streak, beating the Ottawa Senators 2-1 on Tuesday and the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in a shootout on Thursday.
The teams last met on March 21st, as Florida was riding their five game win streak, the Canes could boast a three game winning streak of their own. Carolina won the game for their season best four game winning streak, 3-1 as Cam Ward (30-23-13, .914, 2.74) stopped 30-of-31 shots for the win, allowing only a second period goal to Tomas Fleischmann (23). The Canes were paced by two goals from Eric Staal (22, 23) and one by Joni Pitkanen (4). Jose Theodore stopped 36-of-39 for the loss. Florida coach Kevin Dineen addressed the media afterwards about patience and special teams,
"That was certainly not our expectation, trying to play a loose game," said Florida coach Kevin Dineen, whose team settled for a lone goal from Tomas Fleischmann. "I felt we needed to be more patient in areas that have been strengths for us. Our board play and special teams were an issue tonight, but overall, it was just the jump and enthusiam that was certainly leaning towards the home team."
Panthers @ Hurricanes 03/21/12 (via NHLVideo)
Florida's last game would see the Panthers drop a 4-2 game to the Washington Capitals on Thursday. Jay Beagle (4) opened the scoring six minutes into the opening period, Alex Ovechkin (37) and Brooks Laich (16) added markers two minutes apart in the second to stake the Caps to a 3-0 lead. The Cats mounted an effort to climb back into it with a Mikael Samuelsson (13) goal with four minutes remaining in the period, and an Ed Jovanovski (3) knuckleballer that found its way into the back of the net less than a minute left into the third. Alexander Semin (21) would put a stop to any comeback aspirations with a backhander just before the Panthers were about to pull goaltender Jose Theodore (19-of-23 saves, 22-16-11, .917, 2.46) Michal Neuvirth (13-13-5, .903, 2.82) got the start, stopping 13-of-13 shots before Marco Sturm fell on him early in the second period. Braden Holtby (3-2-1, .910, 2.79) stopped 12-of-14 shots in relief. Stephen Weiss spoke about "backing" into the playoffs after the game,
Added Florida forward Stephen Weiss: "I don't care (about the loss). I couldn't care how it happened. All you got to do is get in, and anything can happen."
Panthers @ Capitals 04/05/12 (via NHLVideo)
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The Hurricanes beat the Habs on Thursday night, 2-1 in a shootout. Cam Ward stopped 30-of-31 shots, allowing only a wraparound early in the second by Blake Geoffrion (2). Chad LaRose (19) potted a power play goal for Carolina's only regulation goal midway through the second period, and Eric Staal provided the only score in the shootout, at the end of round three. Peter Budaj (4-7-5, .910, 2.64) stopped 28-of-29 in regulation and overtime before getting beat in the shootout. Ward lamented playing for pride after the game,
"It doesn't make it any easier," Ward said. "I think everyone in here is still disappointed that we're not making the playoffs. It's important that you finish the season strong. We've done a lot of good things and made a lot of strides since Muller has taken over. You don't want to take your foot off the gas just because we're out of the playoffs."
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Common Thread: (from Hockey Reference)
Hurricanes winger Anthony Stewart played parts of four seasons with the Panthers, appearing in 105 games from 2005-06 through 2008-09. He scored four goals and eight assists with a minus-four rating and 38 penalty minutes.
Hurricanes defenseman Bryan Allen played in parts of five seasons for the Cats. He appeared in 284 games, scoring 14 goals and 53 assists with a plus-one and 341 penalty minutes.
Canes defenseman Jaroslav Spacek played in 157 games for the Panthers over three seasons. He scored 15 goals and 39 assists with a plus-18 rating and 89 penalty minutes.
Florida Panthers Milestones:
Jason Garrison moves into a tie with Ray Sheppard in 45th all-time, with his 190th game played. If not scratched again, Shawn Matthias will play in game number 205, passing Juraj Kolnik into 37th all-time.
Kris Versteeg and Jason Garrison each have 23, tied in 49th. Shawn Matthias is tied in 46th with Mike Van Ryn, with 25 each. Tomas Fleischmann will tie Bryan McCabe in 42nd with his next goal, number 28. Mike Santorelli will move into a tie with Niklas Hagman in 37th all-time with his next goal, number 30. Ed Jovanovski will move into a tie with Valeri Bure in 31st with his 33rd goal.
Mike Weaver, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann - 81
Tomas Fleischmann - 27
Kris Versteeg - 23
Stephen Weiss - 19
Sean Bergenheim - 17
Brian Campbell - 49
Stephen Weiss - 37
Tomas Fleischmann - 34
Tomas Fleischmann - 61
Stephen Weiss - 56
Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell - 53
Stephen Weiss, Jason Garrison - plus-5
Kris Versteeg - plus-4
Jose Theodore - 9.7
Brian Campbell - 8.3
Jason Garrison - 8.1
Tomas Fleischmann - 7.2
Kris Versteeg - 6.5
Stephen Weiss - 6.1
Panthers Starting Lineup:
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Wojtek Wolski - Jerred Smithson - Scottie Upshall
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
Merely guessing here, but Scott Clemmensen (13-6-6, .911, 2.63) should probably get the start before Jose Theodore (22-16-11, .917, 2.46) takes the reigns in round one.
Andreas Nodl is being monitored for a possible concussion.
Hurricanes Starting Lineup:
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Derek Joslin - Brandon Sutter - Pat Dwyer
Jaroslav Spacek - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
Brian Boucher (1-5-1, .881, 3.45) is slated in net tonight.
Corsi Ratings: (last five games)
Brian Campbell - .582
Scottie Upshall - .571
Tomas Fleischman - .571
Mikael Samuelsson - .568
Dmitry Kulikov - .566
Eric Staal - .493
Tim Gleason - .486
Jay Harrison - .485
Tuomo Ruutu - .478
Anthony Stewart - .476
Florida Panthers: 37-26-18, 92 points, first Southeast Division, third Eastern Conference, 15th NHL, on pace for 93 points. Last five: O-L-O-O-L. Playoff odds: 89.5% chance at playing the New Jersey Devils, 10.5% chance of playing the New York Rangers
Carolina Hurricanes: 33-32-16, 82 points, fifth Southeast Division, 12th Eastern Conference, 23rd NHL, on pace for 83 points. Last five: W-O-L-W-W. Playoff odds: Some other day.
Season Series: 4-1-0
All-Time Series: 38-38-22