Panthers-Avalanche Preview

With one month left, the Florida Panthers know they’re a
longshot to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2000. More
efforts like the one in their last game could shorten those odds
considerably.

Looking for their season-high fourth straight win, the Panthers
continue a three-game western swing Thursday night against the
Colorado Avalanche, who hope former Florida goaltender Craig
Anderson can put a bad loss and the memory of a scary injury behind
him.

Florida (27-28-10) opened its trip with a 3-2 shootout victory
over Minnesota on Tuesday. Michael Frolik and Cory Stillman scored
in the third period to erase a two-goal deficit, and Stillman had
the only tally by either club in the shootout.

The key to the win, though, was Tomas Vokoun. He needed to make
only nine saves through overtime and turned aside all four attempts
in the tiebreaker.

The Panthers are well outside the top eight in the Eastern
Conference with a difficult stretch coming up. They will close
their road trip Saturday in San Jose before facing Washington,
Phoenix and Buffalo at home.

“We’ve got to go out and win ourselves. It’s in our control,”
Stillman said. “We can’t count on anyone else to help us. This is a
road trip where we need to get five out of six, if not six out of
six points.”

A resurgent offense could help Florida achieve that. The
Panthers have scored 14 goals during their winning streak, led by
four from Frolik and two each from Stillman and Kamil Kreps. The
club had managed eight goals during a seven-game skid from Feb.
1-March 2.

This will be Florida’s first visit to Denver since a 5-4
overtime loss on Feb. 6, 2007, and the Panthers are 1-2-1 in their
last four games there.

Barring a collapse, Colorado (37-23-6) will be returning to the
playoffs after finishing at the bottom of the West last season.
Getting in as Northwest Division champions is a distinct
possibility as the Avalanche will be battling Vancouver for the top
spot the rest of the way.

Colorado led the Canucks 4-1 midway through the second period
Tuesday before Anderson allowed four unanswered goals. Vancouver
added an empty-netter in the closing seconds to hand the Avalanche
a 6-4 loss.

“I thought we came out and played strong in the first, we got
the puck behind them. We were making our own chances and forcing
them into some turnovers. We got away from that in the second, and
that’s what we needed to get back to doing,” Avalanche defenseman
John-Michael Liles said.

Anderson was Vokoun’s backup with Florida from 2006-09 before
signing a two-year deal with Colorado in July. Facing his former
club for the first time on Dec. 2, he was involved in a collision
with Panthers defenseman Keith Ballard late in overtime that caused
Anderson’s head to hit the goalpost.

Colorado went on to lose 6-5 in a shootout as the Panthers’
Stephen Weiss recorded a hat trick and scored the only goal in the
tiebreaker. Anderson missed the next four games with a neck injury,
but he should make his 22nd straight start while trying to move
closer to a franchise record.

Anderson’s 33 wins are the fourth-highest single-season total in
Colorado history. Patrick Roy holds the top three slots, including
a franchise-best 40 victories in 2000-01.

Weiss has a career-best 23 goals to lead the Panthers this
season, but none in two career games in Colorado.