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Game Day Preview: Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets

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Florida: 29-36-11 (69PTS)
Columbus: 33-31-11 (77PTS)
Season Series: 0-0-1
Race to the Bottom: 30 EDM (57), 29 COL (64), 28 OTT (68), 27 FLA (69), 26 NYI (70), 25 NJD (73)
Record before and after the trade deadline: 26-29-7 (59PTS) .476 / 3-7-4 (10PTS) .357

Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets host the Cats in Florida's final game against a Western Conference opponent this season. The Blue Jackets are also wrapping up the end of a disappointing season in which they failed to qualify for the playoffs. The Jackets have been pretty good against the Panthers the last few years, and even though both teams are out of the playoff picture, they will be playing for a win here. The Panthers have been playing hard but coming up short since the trade deadline and have played very few bad games. However, this one will may be a painful game to watch for some Cats fans. The memory of the third period meltdown against the Jackets two seasons ago that contributed to the Panthers' tie-breaking loss of a playoff spot to Montreal is still pretty fresh in at least this writer's mind.

Last meeting: The Jackets won the first meeting between the two teams this season on January 19. R.J. Umberger scored the winning goal in overtime. The Jackets are 6-4-0 all-time against the Panthers.

Last game: The Panthers held out until the shootout against the Pittsburgh Penguins Sunday afternoon. The Cats opened the scoring and then allowed one goal to make it 1-1 at the end of three. Tomas Vokoun tweaked his back in the third, but finished the period, giving Scott Clemmensen time to warm up before taking his place in overtime. The Panthers were unable to score in the extra time and Clemmensen, who is weak in the shootout, let in two to seal the victory for the Pens.

Notes: Tomas Vokoun will not play today. Tyler Plante was called up from Rochester to take his place. Clay Wilson was also called up, possibly to replace Keaton Ellerby, who took a big hit on Sunday, but finished the game Alexander Sulzer.  It appears that Shawn Matthias and Jack Skille will again miss today's game. They both returned from injury on Wednesday, but were not quite in game shape and missed the last two games.

Injuries: Tomas Vokoun, back, day to day (3/27/2011). Scott Timmins, concussion, unknown (3/10/2011). Rostislav Olesz, knee, out for the season (2/25/2011). Byron Bitz (IR), sports hernia, out for the season.

Starting goaltenders:

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

Defense:
Weaver-Garrison
Kulikov-Ellerby
Callahan-Wilson

The Panthers look to be missing at least three players from the post-deadline roster tonight, but have so far managed to look to be same team no matter who is missing, as long as that player is not named Stephen Weiss. Standings watchers will also be playing close attention to tonight's Senators-Lightning game. Given the recent play of both the Oilers and Avalanche, it would take a severe losing streak for the Panthers to come in any lower than 28th (for the second number 3 pick in a row), but the Cats are only a loss and an Ottawa win away from taking that 28th spot. If the Panthers lose the next two, this will happen. As for Tampa Bay, they might want to think about losing a few and letting the Rangers catch up to them, in hopes of pulling Boston in the first round and not Pittsburgh. Knowing the Lightning, the key loss will probably be to the Panthers next Friday.

More from our Columbus cohorts at The Cannon

Panthers vs Blue Jackets coverage at SBNation.com

UPDATE (2:40 PM): It is in fact, Alexander Sulzer who will miss tonight's game, not Keaton Ellerby.