Senators-Panthers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 14, 2012
Following a two-game stretch in which they had trouble scoring and stopping their opponents from finding the back of the net, the Florida Panthers are playing some of their best hockey of the season. A visit from the Ottawa Senators could prevent them from continuing that success. Florida looks to win four straight for the first time in nearly four years Wednesday night when it meets an Ottawa team which has dominated the series over the past few seasons - especially on the Panthers' ice. The Panthers (27-17-11) were outscored 10-3 in back-to-back road losses to Tampa Bay and Washington from Feb. 4-7, but the Southeast Division leaders have bounced back to win three straight by outscoring teams by the same margin. Florida swept a two-game trip through the New York metropolitan area over the weekend, scoring the last three goals in Saturday's 3-1 win over New Jersey and the final four in Sunday's 4-1 victory over the Islanders. "It's been two solid games and it's satisfying when you get rewarded for playing hard," coach Kevin Dineen said. "It's not fun putting ourselves down a goal early but I think when we got down, it didn't seem to (hamper) us too badly." Florida, which leads the Capitals by four points in the division, got a boost Sunday from the return of No. 1 goaltender Jose Theodore. Making his first appearance since suffering a knee injury Jan. 20, the veteran made 26 saves. "I was just looking forward to getting this game in and I was feeling better as the game went on," Theodore said. "I'll have to work hard in practice to get my game to where it was a couple of months ago." Theodore has had two days to rest, but it is uncertain if he will face the Senators (29-22-8) as Florida attempts to win four in a row for the first time since a seven-game run March 2-16, 2008. The Panthers are also looking to win four straight at home for the first time since a five-game win streak Jan. 16-31, 2010. Extending those runs may be difficult, however, since Ottawa has won four straight and 16 of 19 in Florida. The Senators have taken both meetings at home against the Panthers this season to increase their overall win streak in the series to eight. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson has two goals and three assists in the first two meetings, giving him five goals and six assists in his last six matchups with the Panthers. Florida's Kris Versteeg has recorded a goal and three assists against Ottawa this season. Versteeg, who leads the Panthers with 22 goals and 48 points, has five goals and four assists over the last nine games overall. Jason Spezza had three goals and an assist, and Erik Karlsson had one of each Tuesday as the Senators beat the Lightning 4-0 to improve to 2-0-1 in their past three games following an 0-6-1 stretch. Spezza has five goals and five assists over the past four contests for Ottawa, which snapped a season-high four-game road skid and pulled within four points of Northeast Division-leading Boston. "We came out start to finish and stuck to our game plan," said Craig Anderson, who made 28 saves in his second shutout. "We executed, did things right and got rewarded with the result." Senators right wing Bobby Butler has five assists in his past three games after recording four in his first 41.
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