GameDay Preview: Florida Panthers vs. Dallas Stars

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In the season opener, Florida looks to start out strong against an equally motivated Stars squad in Dallas. Have the Cats' mix of young guns and free agent veterans learned enough to be an early contender in their new eight-team division?

After putting the brakes to a postseason-less streak of 12 years two seasons ago, the Florida Panthers reverted to cellar dwellers in a lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, going 15-27-6 for an NHL low of 36 points. They'll start out the new year on a four-game road trip, departing Dallas to face the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday before heading home for a two-game stand. Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars fell just short of the playoffs for the fifth season in a row, going 22-22-4, finishing 11th in the Western Conference. They'll remain at home to host the Washington Capitals on Saturday before their own three-game trip. (Related: see today's Three Questions segment with Defending Big D)

A Look Back

The surprising 8-5-3 Panthers were visiting the 11-5-0 Dallas team on November 15th, 2011 in the last meeting of these two infrequent opponents. Six Cats scored goals, two in each period, as Scott Clemmensen pitched a 25 save shutout. Stephen Weiss and Brian Campbell each finished the game with impressive plus-five ratings while Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen allowed all six goals on 30 shots in a losing effort. From NHL.COM:

With three goals from their top line and two more from their defensemen, the Florida Panthers showed why they are among the best road teams in the National Hockey League with a 6-0 win against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night. (Full Recap * Box Score)

Panthers @ Stars 11/15/11 (via NHLVideo)

Longtime-now-former Panthers center Stephen Weiss spoke about Florida's success in the game:

I just think we're more relaxed on the road, for whatever reason. I think we're a little cute at home and not as good defensively as we are on the road. Maybe that's because we've got a lot of new guys and we want to put on a show for the fans.

The Panthers stood at 14-27-6 with one game to go and nothing to play for but pride as of April 27th. The Tampa Bay Lightning were only marginally better, hosting the Cats with an 18-25-4 record. Tomas Fleischmann scored twice, Jonathan Huberdeau pitched in with three helpers and Jacob Markstrom stopped 28-of-31 shots for the 5-3 Florida victory. From NHL.COM:

Florida won the season finale for both teams by rallying to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 at Tampa Bay Times Forum. But St. Louis had a goal and an assist for the Lightning, giving him 60 points for the season and virtually assuring him of the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer. (Full Recap * Box Score)

Panthers @ Lightning 04/27/13 (via NHLVideo)

After the game, rookie Jonathan Huberdeau was asked about his chances at winning the Calder Trophy, given annually to the NHL's best rookie:

Of course you want to win it. I didn't put any pressure on myself but it would be nice. It certainly would be great to win the Calder Trophy. For a rookie season, I'm happy.

Today

GameTime: 8:30 PM ET, FS-FLA, FS-SW, WQAM

All-Time Record: Florida is 11-11-3 with no overtime losses in the all-time series.

Season Series: First meeting

Standings:

Florida Panthers, 0-0-0, .000, 0 points, on pace for 82 points (!).

Dallas Stars, 0-0-0, .000, 0 points, on pace for 82 points.

Common Thread

Dallas forward and alternate team captain Ray Whitney spent four seasons with the Panthers, scoring 97 goals with 130 assists, accumulating a plus-seven rating, and 109 penalty minutes in 273 games.

Florida forward and tough guy Krys Barch played his first 263 NHL contests with Dallas, scoring 10 goals with 16 assists, racking up a minus-nine rating while spending 578 minutes in the penalty box. He is not expected to be in tonight's lineup.

Panthers Milestones

Games

Forward Marcel Goc will play in his 100th game with Florida tonight. Mike Weaver will move past Stu Barnes into 44th on the all-time leaderboard with his 192nd game. Dmitry Kulikov will break a tie with Kamil Kreps by playing in his 233rd game, moving into 32nd.

Goals

Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg each have 25 career Panthers goals, tied for 47th. A 26th goal for either will break a tie with Mike Van Ryn. Shawn Matthias and Tomas Fleischmann have 39 goals apiece, tied for 29th all time, a goal for either will move them into a tie for 28th with Juraj Kolnik.

Assists

Shawn Matthias, with 42 assists, is tied with Gary Roberts for 49th all-time. Tomas Fleischmann has 57 assists, one more will tie him with Paul Laus for 33rd. Dmitry Kulikov's next assist will be his 65th, moving him into a tie for 29th with Ed Jovanovski. Brian Campbell currently has 68 assists, one more will tie him for 23rd with Kristian Huselius.


Probable Starting Lineups

Florida Panthers

Forwards
Defensemen
Goaltenders

Dallas Stars

Forwards
Defensemen
Goaltenders

Be sure to check out Defending Big D for a closer look at the Stars, and tune in right here at 7:30 for the LBC GameThread.

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