For the first time since 2011 the Panthers will face off against the San Jose Sharks, a team that the Panthers haven't lost to recently, dating back to 2006. The Sharks, however, will be a serious test for a Florida team that looks vastly overmatched when analyzing the incredibly strong and very deep San Jose depth chart. The Bay Area club sits at fourth in the Western Conference with 64 points, which is a whole 21 points better than the Panthers. That being said, none of that will matter tonight when these two teams go at it.
The Panthers are looking to keep the offense coming after scoring four goals en route to a 4-2 victory against the New York Islanders on Tuesday. A three-goal outburst in the first period gave the Cats a comfortable lead, which is something they're not used to at all. Getting another lead like that against a stingy and hard-working Sharks club would give the Cats and netminder Tim Thomas some room to work with. Obviously, Florida needs to keep the penalties and scoring chances against at a minimum, but doing so will require quite a bit of offensive zone possession, and hopefully another bunch of tallies early on as a result.
Tune in on the LBC GameThread and check out Fear the Fin for any Shark-type coverage you desire.
Players to Watch
Jonathan Huberdeau - Benched for much of the third period after a terrible giveaway and two bad penalties, Huberdeau is really fighting through adversity and his lack of solid, simple hockey is costing him minutes. He was arguably the worst player on the ice for the Cats against the Islanders on Tuesday. Rather than making him a healthy scratch, GM Dale Tallon and head coach Peter Horacek are allowing Huberdeau to play through his struggles and find his way. For now. We'll see how he responds to his benching tonight.
Brent Burns - At the time the Sharks traded for Burns, it looked as though he'd be an anchor on the blueline for the club for a long time. However, Burns has been moved to forward this season, playing top-line minutes with big centerman Joe Thornton at times. Burns has responded with 14 goals and 26 points on the year, and is playing the role as a solid right winger for Thornton and giving San Jose a very physical force with good hands up front.
Tom Gilbert - Gilbert started the season in the Panther defensive lineup and has slowly become one of the main minute-eaters for the Cats. He's one of only eight players on the roster with a positive plus/minus through 46 games, and is playing at a much more comfortable and consistent level than when the season started. Many thought Gilbert would be a cast-away after the season ended but it's looking more and more like Gilbert is playing his way into a follow-up offer by the Panthers after this season.
Antti Niemi - Despite falling off a bit statistically as the season has worn on, Niemi has still been a rock in net for San Jose, posting 24 wins so far and sporting a respectable 2.35 GAA. He's getting a bit more rest lately as the Sharks have turned to backup Alex Stalock twice already this month, which is likely smart as San Jose is playing well enough to need Niemi somewhat rested for a postseason run. The Sharks are a high scoring team but Niemi is the biggest reason why they're also a tough team to score against.