PANTHERS (37-24-16) at BLUE JACKETS (25-45-7)
TV: FS-Florida (HD), FS-Ohio (HD)
Last 10: Florida 6-1-3; Columbus 3-7-0
Season Series: This is the lone meeting of the season. Columbus has won four straight in the series after winning twice last season by 3-2 scores -- one in overtime at Florida and the other in a shootout at home.
Big Story: With points in 10 of their last 11 games, the Panthers are nearing their first division title -- and have the schedule in their favor as they visit last-place Columbus. Florida, which hasn't made the postseason since 2000, leads the Southeast by four points and has a game in hand on Washington. The lead could have been wider, but the Panthers were unable to hang on to a late lead Thursday night and lost 3-2 in overtime at Minnesota -- just a few minutes after the Capitals won 3-2 in a shootout at Boston. The bright side of that latter outcome for Florida is that it trails the Bruins by just four points for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Panthers: While the Panthers continue to string together points, they have also been leaving plenty on the table. Their last four games -- all against non-playoff teams -- have all gone past regulation, with Florida winning just one of them. The first three were all decided in a shootout, while the most recent one ended with Mikko Koivu's overtime winner. What made it even worse was that Florida was 31 seconds away from claiming two points, until Jose Theodore surrendered a goal by Erik Christensen to tie the game and force OT.
"It's a tough one. You're 30 seconds away, the puck hits a skate, hits a post and then he banged it in," said Theodore, who has lost four consecutive starts. "We still got a big point, but when you're 30 seconds away, you want to get the win."
The Panthers received power-play goals from Scottie Upshall and Tomas Fleischmann and never trailed until Koivu's tally 15 seconds into the extra session. Coach Kevin Dineen believes his team might have had a bit of a letdown after the Wild's tying goal.
"It sure seemed like there was," Dineen said. "But that's the area where you have to be in-game resilient. You have to bounce right back and say 'things happen,' and just stay with the process. It's disappointing, but at the end of the day, there's always lessons to be learned."
Blue Jackets: After dropping a lopsided 7-2 decision Monday in Detroit, the Blue Jackets were seeking revenge on the Red Wings in the back-end of a home-and-home Wednesday. However, vengeance was the last thing on Columbus' mind early in the day. Expected starting goaltender Steve Mason was injured when he took a shot in the mask by Colton Gillies during the morning skate. With Curtis Sanford already out with a leg injury, the Blue Jackets were left with one goalie in Allen York, who had started just one NHL game prior to Wednesday. Shawn Hunwick, less than a week removed from completing his senior season at the University of Michigan, signed an amateur tryout contract so he could serve as York's backup.
When all was said and done, York made 29 saves -- including 17 in the final period -- to earn his first NHL victory, as Columbus doubled up the Wings 4-2.
"I couldn't nap today at all," said York, who signed with the Jackets a year ago after playing three seasons at RPI. "I tried to make it a normal game day but I was so excited I couldn't sleep. I probably woke up seven times."
Who's Hot: Fleischmann notched a goal and an assist Thursday and has points in four of his last five with three goals and three assists in that stretch. … Columbus captain Rick Nash, who has points in three straight, has three goals and three assists in his last five games after being held pointless in his previous seven.
Injury Report: Florida forward Mikael Samuelsson (lower body) sat out the loss in Minnesota, while Jack Skille (shoulder) and Matt Bradley (concussion) remain sidelined. … For Columbus, Mason (head) is questionable, while Derek MacKenzie (concussion) and James Wisniewski (concussion-like symptoms) are doubtful. Sanford (torn left quadriceps), Fedor Tyutin (broken right hand), Marc Methot (broken jaw), Radek Martinek (post-concussion symptoms) and Kristian Huselius (groin) are all out for the remainder of the season.
Stat Pack: The Panthers have a League-high 16 losses in games that have gone past regulation. The majority of those defeats have come in the shootout, where they are just 6-10. … Though they have long been out of playoff contention and cannot climb out of 30th, the Jackets have not quit. They are nearly a .500 team over their last 26 games, posting a 12-13-1 record after going 4-15-2 in their previous 21 outings.
Puck Drop: When Hunwick received the call to go to Nationwide Arena, he dropped everything and began driving to Columbus as fast as possible. Too fast, it turned out.
"I got about two miles down the road in Ann Arbor and forgot my wallet and my dress shoes," Hunwick told the team's website. "I tried to pack as fast as I could."
Part of rearranging his plans for the day resulted in missing an astronomy class, which didn't worry the senior too greatly.
"No, didn't miss anything but I think I can make it up," he said. "It was at one o'clock, so I missed out on that, but I couldn't miss out on today."
His reward: The Jackets signed him to a professional contract through the end of the season.