FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen isn't going to categorize any game as a “must-win” contest, not when the Panthers still hold a nice lead in the Southeast Division and hold a solid postseason spot with eight games left.
With the Islanders coming to town Sunday at 5 p.m., the Panthers would do themselves a big favor simply by winning. Players have constantly insisted there are no easy games this time of year.
Teams in the playoff race fight for every point. Teams who are out play for pride, and more importantly, future employment.
The Islanders came into Saturday's game against the host Lightning tied for the fewest points in the Eastern Conference with Montreal. Yet the Islanders have beaten the likes of playoff-bound New Jersey and Philadelphia this month. They would like to add a little intrigue to the Panthers run to the postseason as well.
“I'm not worried about the outcome so much as I concern myself with the way we play and the process,'' Dineen said.
Florida has played very well against the Islanders this season, winning all three meetings without much effort. The Panthers opened the season with a 2-0 shutout on Long Island and have outscored New York 10-3 in the three wins.
A win over the Islanders would give the Panthers three of four points in this quick two-game homestand after Friday's shootout loss to the Oilers. With a tough – but manageable – four game road trip coming up, the Panthers need these two points if they hope to clinch a playoff berth this week.
“Let's not kid ourselves, we have to be a good player at home,'' Dineen said. “We need to acknowledge that home is where we make our stand. That has to be important to us.''
Kris Versteeg is obviously pretty frustrated with his play of late and went on an expletive-filled rave after Friday's game. Versteeg had a great chance to win the game in the final seconds of overtime, only the puck was blocked by Edmonton's Devan Dubnyk and slid along the goal-line and never went across.
Verteeg – who hasn't scored since Feb. 12 against the Islanders -- has been getting opportunities, but like Friday's failed chance, the puck just isn't finding its way home.
Versteeg isn't alone. Dineen said Friday that Tomas Fleischmann is “the guy running the engine” and many of his teammates are just “back on the passenger side.'' Dineen had Versteeg playing on a second line with Wojtek Wolski and Shawn Matthias at Saturday's practice; Florida's first line was center Stephen Weiss, Fleischmann and Tomas Kopecky.
“For us to have success the next 15 days and hopefully through the postseason, Versteeg is going to be a big part of our offense,'' Dineen said. “We place a lot of pressure on him. We need to see him succeed. When he does, the team responds.''
SUNDAY: ISLANDERS AT PANTHERS
TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 39-30-8
The game: The Islanders snapped a five-game losing streak with a win in Montreal last Saturday and had won two straight going into Saturday's game in Tampa Bay. The Islanders are 4-5-2 in the second game of a back-to-back set this season. The Panthers have gone 5-0-1 in their past six home games.