Game Day Preview: New York Islanders at Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers: 29-33-9 (67PTS)
New York Islanders: 27-33-12 (66PTS)
Season Series: 2-1-0
Race to the Bottom: 30 EDM (55), 29 COL (60), 28 OTT (61), 27 NYI (66), 26 FLA (67), 25 NJD (70)

The Panthers face the Islanders in their final meeting of the season tonight. The game is a massively anticipated contest in the league's Race To The Bottom. The teams were tied two days ago, but the Isles pulled ahead of the Cats with an overtime loss to Carolina while the Panthers won their last, against the Leafs. In reality, both teams are playing for pride and the Panthers are playing for jobs. Speaking of jobs for the Panthers, no Panthers-Islanders preview would be complete without mentioning Cat-for-five-minutes Michael Grabner, whom the Panthers lost to the Isles via waivers just prior to the start of the season. Grabner has 29 goals. That's 5 more than anyone on the Panthers and good enough for third best by an Islanders rookie. He needs 3 to tie or 4 more to beat Bryan Trottier for second place.

Last meeting: The Isles pounded a listless Cats squad 5-1 in Long Island on Presidents' Day. That loss was the final tipping point on the Panthers season. It sent the message that the team wasn't ready to play and wasn't going to make the playoffs and started the wheels in motion on Dale Tallon's massive trade deadline selloff a week later.

Last game: The Cats beat the Maple Leafs 4-0 Thursday night, in goaltender Scott Clemmensen's first shutout of the season. He had been 0-1-1 against them with a 2.91 GAA and a save percentage of .885 in two previous games this season. Sergei Samsonov had 2 points and Mike Santorelli scored his first goal in 11 games in the win.

Notes: Mike Duco was returned to Rochester as the Panthers activated Evgeni Dadonov, who will play his first game since having his finger broken on March 3. Alexander Sulzer may also play today. That will be a game-time decision.

Injuries: Scott Timmins, concussion, unknown (3/10/2011). Sulzer (day to day), oblique (3/5/2011). Jack Skille (day to day), High ankle sprain, unknown (2/23/2011). Shawn Matthias (IR), broken ankle, out 6-8 weeks (1/31/2011). Rostislav Olesz, knee, out for the season (2/25/2011). Byron Bitz (IR), sports hernia, out for the season.

Starting goaltenders: Under Pete DeBoer's usual "system," Clemmensen would get the start for the Panthers after posting a shutout two days ago, but he seems to be rotating the goalies, so Tomas Vokoun, who has played in all 3 games against the Islanders this season, will be the likely starter. He has a 2.68 GAA and .927 save percentage in those games. Rumor has it that Rick DiPietro and his glass hip will be starting for the Islanders, if he doesn't get injured on the way to the game. Update: Clemmer's in.

Lines: DeBoer will probably start Dadonov back on the second line, which will push Michal Repik down to the third.

Forwards:
Bergfors - Weiss - Samsonov
Booth - Reasoner - Dadonov
Repik - Santorelli - Bernier
Hordichuk - Carter - Rissmiller

Defense:
Weaver-Garrison
Kulikov-Ellerby
Callahan-Wilson/Sulzer

The Panthers slept through the game following their last win. That one was a complete snoozer against the Senators. As they showed in February, the Islanders will take advantage if the Panthers start slow. Whichever team gets the jump early will probably win this one. The Panthers have history on their side: the Isles are 0-7-1 in their last 8 at the Big Billboard. Their last win here was in November 2006.

More from our New York Islanders cohorts at Lighthouse Hockey.

Islanders vs Panthers coverage  at SBNation.com

TSN Preview here.

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