Senators chase fourth straight as they host Panthers
PANTHERS (30-32-11) at SENATORS (40-30-5)
Florida 5-4-1; Ottawa 4-5-1
Third of four meetings this season. Each team has won in its opponent's building. Daniel Alfredsson
had a goal and an assist as the Senators claimed a 4-3 victory in Florida on Oct. 28. Rostislav Olesz scored twice and Tomas Vokoun stopped all 24 shots he faced as the Panthers prevailed 3-0 in Ottawa on Jan. 9.
The Senators have been a streaky team this season. They lost five straight in January before putting together a team-record 11-game winning streak. They lost another five in a row earlier this month, but ride a three-game winning streak into Saturday's action. Ottawa trails Buffalo by five points in the Northeast Division and the teams still have one meeting left.
Seven points separate Florida from eighth-place Boston entering Saturday with nine games remaining for each team. They meet on April 1 at the TD Garden. For that game to mean much of anything, the Panthers need to get points out of the three they play before then. They come off a 4-1 loss in Montreal on Thursday, a contest that was close until the Canadiens scored a pair of empty-net goals in the final minutes.
"We had some chances," forward Nathan Horton said. "I think (Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak) played good when we did, even with traffic and tip-ins. He's a pretty good goalie. We played hard but it wasn't enough and we lost."
Refusing to concede the division title just yet and building some momentum toward its return to the playoffs, Ottawa was impressive in a 4-2 win over Buffalo on Friday. Playing without injured forwards Milan Michalek
and Alex Kovalev
, the Senators got key goals early from Chris Kelly
and Peter Regin
. Jason Spezza
added the power-play game-winner, Alfredsson was credited with an empty-net goal and Brian Elliott
made 41 saves.
"We had some of our best players out, but a lot of guys stepped up," Spezza said. "That's what it's all about at this time of the year, because nobody is going to be healthy."
Radek Dvorak has two goals and an assist during a three-game points streak for the Panthers. Backup goalie Scott Clemmensen won consecutive starts, stopping 61 of 64 shots (.953 save percentage) before coach Peter DeBoer went back to Vokoun against the Canadiens.
Elliott was coming off back-to-back shutouts of the Canadiens and Flyers before turning in another top-notch effort against the Sabres on Friday. He'll start against the Panthers tonight. Alfredsson has two goals and seven assists during a six-game points streak for the Senators. Spezza has four goals in as many games. Regin has two goals and an assist during a three-game points streak. Kelly has goals in consecutive games.
Florida forward David Booth suffered another concussion after an open-ice hit from Montreal defenceman Jaroslav Spacek on Thursday. Booth, who missed 45 games after suffering his first concussion on a Mike Richards hit in Philadelphia back in October, is out indefinitely. He had four goals in as many games prior to Thursday. Forward Gregory Campbell is also sidelined with a broken foot.
Michalek is out for Ottawa with a knee injury, while defenceman Filip Kuba
is stll fighting a lower-body injury. Kovalev will return to the lineup tonight after a one-game absence, making Ryan Shannon
a healthy scratch along with Shean Donovan.
Vokoun is second in the league in three categories that make the Panthers smile: shutouts (seven), saves (1,884) and save percentage (.928). However, the fact he's also second in the category of shots against (1,987) suggests unflattering things about the defence playing in front of him this season.
Booth was released from a Montreal area hospital on Friday and was to fly back to South Florida for further evaluation. It seems doubtful he will play again this season.
"I think everybody could see it didn't look good but hopefully it wasn't as bad as his last one," Horton said after Thursday's game. "We're just hoping for the best."