Game Day Preview: Florida Panthers at Montreal Canadiens, February 2, 2011

Florida: 22-22-6, 50pts
Montreal: 28-18-5, 61pts
Season Series: 1-0-1 Florida

Although there was the possibility of one of the teams being grounded due to the snowstorms blanketing most of the U.S., everything appears set to go for tonight's Panthers-Canadiens matchup. Both teams played to shooutouts last night, with the Panthers losing theirs against the Leafs despite David Booth's nice spin-o-rama goal on J.S. Giguere, while the Montreal Canadiens won their game on the strength of captain Brian Gionta's three goals. Gionta had the only Canadiens goals in the game, including their sole shootout goal.

This is the third meeting between the two teams this season. The road team has won both, though the Panthers lost their home game in overtime, giving them a one-point edge in the season series. The Panthers are looking up at a seven-point gap between themselves and 8th place Atlanta. The Canadiens, in 7th, are 3 more points away, but the Cats have three games in hand on the Thrashers and two on the Canadiens. The Panthers could still get close to catching up to Montreal by winning the two games against and the two games in hand.

The Panthers will of course attempt to do this without the services of both Bryan McCabe and Shawn Matthias. The lineup appears to be the same as last night, including forward Scott Timmins, called up from Rochester yesterday. Timmins had no points and 2 penalty minutes in 10:25 of ice time in his NHL debut last night in Toronto. The lone exception is goalie Tomas Vokoun, who is expected to get the start in goal. Vokoun is 3-4-0 in 8 starts in Montreal. Steve Bernier will likely sit in the press box again. Michael Frolik, the other player in Pete DeBoer's dog house, played a good enough game last night to get moved from the fourth line back to the first.

Speaking of Vokoun, the Tampa Bay Lightning have placed goaltender Mike Smith on waivers. If Dale Tallon intends to trade Tomas Vokoun at the trade deadline, he may place a waiver claim on Smith. Smith's full season cap hit is $2.4 million and he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. That is, of course, if Garth Snow and the Islanders don't attempt to pick him up.

Tonight, the Panthers are in yet another winnable game. They've won at the Bell Center once this season and can do so again provided they play a better defensive game than they were able to play in Toronto last night.

More from our Montreal cohorts at Habs Eyes On The Prize

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