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Florida Panthers Visit Minnesota Wild: Game 77 Preview

The Florida Panthers visit the Minnesota Wild tonight needing six points with six games to go. Can the Panthers shut the door on the Capitals?

The Panthers continue their trip tonight with a road tilt against the Wild at XCel Energy Center St. Paul, Minnesota at 8:00 PM ET. This is the second meeting this season between the infrequent adversaries, with Minnesota claiming the first game, 3-2 in a shootout last month in Sunrise. The Panthers are 17-15-5 (.527) on the road, the Wild have a 17-16-4 (.514) home record.

Florida is playing in the second game of a four game road trip. They won a shootout on Tuesday night, 3-2 against the Montreal Canadiens, and continue on to face the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow night and the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Florida's current magic numbers are six for a playoff berth and for a division title (over conference ninth place and division second place Washington). A win tonight coupled with a Capitals loss to the Boston Bruins will reduce the Panther's magic number to two.

The Wild are in the second match of a three game homestand. They lost to the New York Rangers, 3-2 on Tuesday night and finish up against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. Minnesota's magic number will have to wait until next season, they have been eliminated from postseason contention.

These teams last played each other on February 23rd, Minnesota claiming a shootout victory, 3-2 in Sunrise. After a scoreless first, Mikael Samuelsson (8) opened the scoring with a power play marker in the second. Kyle Brodziak (16) would tie it at one with 20 seconds left in the period. Minnesota took the lead with a power play goal from Matt Cullen (13) in the third, and Sean Bergenheim (13) would make extra hockey necessary with the equalizer with four minutes remaining in regulation. After a scoreless overtime period, Erik Christensen and Cullen would both score on Jose Theodore (22-14-9, .921, 2.35, 26-of-28 saves) in the first two rounds as Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom (17-17-6, .920, 2.44, 41-of-43) stopped both Kris Versteeg and Bergenheim for the victory. Minnesota coach Mike Yeo spoke about Backstrom after the game,

"This is a guy that cares incredibly about what we're doing here and putting a great deal of pressure on himself to score and to try to get us wins," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "The thing is it wasn't unfair on him to have those kind of expectations, but you can see just how relieved he's been the last couple of games since he scored that first goal. He's been unbelievable out there. Hopefully this continues on that way."

Wild @ Panthers 02/23/12 (via NHLVideo)

Florida won a shootout in their last action, 3-2 on Tuesday in Montreal against the Canadiens. Wojtek Wolski (4) opened the scoring on an unassisted wrister past Habs goaltender Carey Price (26-27-11, .917, 2.41, 34-of-36). Less than a minute later, Erik Cole (31) scored on the power play to make it even, beating Florida netminder Scott Clemmensen (13-6-5, .908, 2.71, 27-of-29). Near the end of the second period, Louis LeBlanc (5) put the Habs up, 2-1. Mikael Samuelsson (12) scored at the 13-minute mark to get the Cats back in the game. After a scoreless overtime, Wolski provided the only score in the shootout to give Florida the hard fought victory. Kevin Dineen spoke afterwards,

"Washington lost?" Dineen asked, knowing full well the Capitals had suffered a devastating 5-1 loss at home earlier Tuesday to the Buffalo Sabres, thereby extending the Panthers' Southeast Division lead to a commanding five points. "Let's not kid ourselves; we're all doing that right now on both sides of the ledger," Dineen said of the scoreboard-watching going on. "Everyone's looking around to see what's happening around the League. That's a nice win for us and I give Buffalo credit; that's a team that was counted out three weeks ago."

Panthers @ Canadiens 03/27/12 (via NHLVideo)

For more chicken-fried goodness, check out Habs Eyes On The Prize.

The Wild lost their last match, 3-2 to the New York Rangers. Brian Boyle (8), Marian Gaborik (38) and Ruslan Fedotenko (9) scored for New York, while Kyle Brodziak (20) and Mikku Koivu (11) each scored on the power play for the Minnesota goals. Henrik Lundqvist (37-16-5, .932, 1.93) stopped 24-of-26 Wild shots in the victory, while Josh Harding (11-12-4, .918, 2.64) allowed all three goals on 32 shots for the loss. Mike Yeo expressed his frustration afterwards,

"We were doing a lot of good things and then give them a freebie, in a 2-2 game," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "We didn't do the right thing, we're not alert and we give them a tap-in. Can't happen."

Rangers @ Wild 03/27/12 (via NHLVideo)

For the Rangers point of view, check out Blueshirt Banter.

Common Thread:

Panthers forward John Madden scored 12 goals and 13 assists in 76 games last year for Minnesota. He compiled a minus-9 rating and 10 penalty minutes.

Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore posted a 15-11-3 record last season in 32 games for the Wild with a .916 save percentage and a 2.71 goals against average.

Wild center Matt Cullen played in 86 games over two seasons with the Panthers. He scored 12 goals and 19 assists with a minus-6 rating and 46 penalty minutes.

Panthers Milestones:
Kris Versteeg sits in 50th with 22 goals scored. Jason Garrison has 23 in 49th, Tomas Fleischmann has 24, tied with Dave Gagner in 47th. Shawn Matthias will move past Mike Van Ryn with his next goal, into 45th all-time with 26. 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 32nd with his next goal, number 32, with Richard Zednik.

Brian Campbell will move into a tie with Ruslan Salei in 42nd all-time with his 46th assist. Dmitry Kulikov will pass Martin Gelinas into 34th all-time with his 55th assist.

Panthers Leaders:
Mike Weaver, Brian Campbell, Tomas Fleischmann - 76

Tomas Fleischmann - 24
Kris Versteeg - 22
Stephen Weiss - 19
Sean Bergenheim - 17

Brian Campbell - 45
Stephen Weiss - 36
Tomas Fleischmann - 32

Tomas Fleischmann - 56
Stephen Weiss - 55
Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell - 49

Stephen Weiss - plus-8
Jason Garrison, Marcel Goc - plus-7

Point Shares:
Jose Theodore, Brian Campbell - 13.7
Mike Weaver - 6.3
Stephen Weiss - 4.1
Kris Versteeg - 3.7
Tomas Fleischmann - 3.4

Panthers Injuries:
Jack Skille and Matt Bradley are both out, Skille for the season, and Bradley until April at the earliest.

Panthers Starting Lineup:
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Kopecky
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Wojtek Wolski - Shawn Matthias - Kris Versteeg
Marco Sturm - Jerred Smithson - Scottie Upshall

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Jose Theodore (22-14-9, .921, 2.35) will probably start in net after a great showing by backup Scott Clemmensen on Tuesday night.

Wild Injuries:
Matt Cullen is out for the season with a broken finger. Jared Spurgeon, Guillaume Latrendresse, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are all out for the season with concussions. Matt Kassian may miss his fifth consecutive game with a groin injury. Justin Falk has missed his past 10 games with a knee problem, but may be ready to return to action. Mike Lundin is out for the season with a hernia.

Wild Starting Lineup:
Devin Setoguchi - Mikko Koivu - Dany Heatley
Cal Clutterbuck - Erik Christensen - Jason Zucker
Darroll Powe - Kyle Brodziak - Nick Johnson
Jed Ortmeyer - Warren Peters - Stephane Veilleux

Marco Scandella - Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner - Tom Gilbert
Kurtis Foster - Steve Kampfer

It's a toss up so far. Either Josh Harding (11-12-4, .918, 2.64) or Matt Hackett (3-6-0, .922, 2.37) could get the start.

Corsi Ratings: (last five games)

Florida Panthers:
Shawn Matthias - .609
Jerred Smithson - .600
Wojtek Wolski - .575
Marcel Goc - .574
Sean Bergenheim - .567

Minnesota Wild:
Nick Johnson - .551
Nate Prosser - .548
Kyle Brodziak - .527
Devin Setoguchi - .514
Stepane Veilleux - .511

At this point, the Wild are in the role of spoiler, having squandered an excellent early season which saw them at one point lead the NHL with a 20-7-3 (.717) record. With a magic number of six, Florida could finish 2-2-2 and still freeze the Capitals out of the final playoff spot. For perspective, the Panthers could go 1-4-1 and the Caps could post a 3-1-1 over their last five and we would still claim the spot. Still, the long-suffering Florida fanbase is understandably reticent to celebrate too early. Barring a collapse of Red Sox-ian proportions, however, we will see a playoff game in Sunrise in the next two weeks.


Florida Panthers: 37-24-15, 89 points, first Southeast Division, third Eastern Conference, 11th NHL, on pace for 96 points. Last five: W-L-O-O-W. Playoff odds: 98.7%

Minnesota Wild: 31-35-10, 72 points, fourth Northwest Division, 13th Western Conference, 27th NHL, on pace for 78 points. Last five: W-W-L-L-L. Playoff odds: maybe next year...

Season Series: 0-0-1

All-Time Series: 3-7-2

If you want the see what they have to say in the Twin Cities, go to Hockey Wilderness. For more on the Florida Panthers, check out Litter Box Cats.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.