It’s the moment we have all been waiting for. Ever since the Panthers reentered the playoff picture, today has been circled on everyone’s calendar. The Panthers who have gone 18-5-1 since the All Star Break must face the ironically Red Hot Columbus Blue Jackets, winners of their last 9 games. This streak has catapulted John Tortorella’s team into a safe playoff spot. However the head coach said this morning “We’re not in the <censored> playoffs. Don’t get too far ahead because we’re not there”. Although the Vegas odds are favoring the Blue Jackets with a line of -134, you can’t count the Panthers out.
Blue Jackets Scope: Seth Jones is a game time decision after a weeklong absence due to an upper body injury. If the 23 year old plays tonight, veteran Jack Johnson will likely find himself in the pressbox. However if Jones isn’t able to go the Panthers will still have their hands full. The lethal young pair of defenders Zach Werenski and Ryan Murray are no pushover for the Panthers offense. Add in trade deadline aquisition Ian Cole as well as veteran David Savard and the Jackets have one of if not the best defensive core in the game. On Offense the Blue Jackets are still lethal. Despite not having the strongest center core, their wingers will hurt you. Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin have been lethal on this streak. Add in depth wingers like Thomas Vanek and you got a solid offense. Add in 2 time Veznia winner Sergei Bobrovsky in the pipes and you have the 2nd most complete team in the game behind the Lightning.
Panthers Scope: Alex Petrovic will likely play tonight after missing 3 of the last 4 games. Petrovic was held out of two contests before returning Monday. However he reaggravated his injury and sat out Tuesday. Ever since sitting a lot early in the year, Petrovic has been very solidly defensively for the Panthers and played in 45 consecutive games before he got hurt. The struggling Ian McCoshen who has been beaten by Mackenzie Weegar for a top 6 spot will likely sit. On offense, the Panthers have Selke candidate Aleksander Barkov. Barkov has set career highs in his first fully healthy season. A supporting cast of core forwards Evengii Dadonov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck will help the 22 year old Finn shoulder the load. Add in production from Nick Bjugstad and Frank Vatrano and the Panthers have a solid top 6. However in their bottom 6, Jared McCann, Jamie McGinn, Denis Malgin and Colton Sceviour are no pushovers. The defense is led by Keith Yandle who has 49 points this year including 42 assists. His supporting crew includes 22 year old Aaron Ekblad who has tied his career high in goals in a single season already with 15. Michael Matheson another young defenseman has been outstanding too. Add in the reliable defensive Mark Pysyk and you have a solid defensive core. In the pipes, Roberto Luongo has been red hot. The 38 year old has had a career rebirth of sorts with a .928 save percentage and a 2.53 GAA. Backup James Reimer is also riding a hot streak of his own.
Artemi Panarin- Nick Foligno- Cam Atkinson
Sonny Milano- Pierre Luc Dubois- Oliver Bjorkstrand
Boone Jenner- Alexander Wenneberg- Thomas Vanek
Lukas Sedlak- Mark Letestu- Matt Calvert
Zach Werenski- Ryan Murray
Jack Johnson- Markus Nutivaara
Ian Cole- David Savard
Evengii Dadonov- Aleksander Barkov- Nick Bjugstad
Jonathan Huberdeau- Vincent Trocheck- Frank Vatrano
Jamie McGinn- Jared McCann- Denis Malgin
Michael Haley- Derek Mackenzie- Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle- Aaron Ekblad
Michael Matheson- Mark Pysyk
Mackenzie Weegar- Alex Petrovic
1st Line: Even
2nd Line: Florida
3rd Line: Columbus
4th Line: Columbus
1st Pair: Even
2nd Pair: Florida
3rd Pair: Columbus