Unexpectedly, it doesn't get much bigger than this.
Before season's start, who would have expected both the Senators and Panthers fighting tooth and nail to stay in the mix for a playoff spot. It's hard to pick which team is more surprising: The Sens, who most picked to end the season at or near the league's basement, or the Panthers, who stand today tops in the Southeast Division, ahead of the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Ottawa's actually a point ahead of the Panthers, but Florida is seeded third in the East thanks to their division lead, and they have four games in hand on the Sens. Ottawa, meanwhile, has a more tenuous hold on seventh in the East than at first glance: Their multi-point lead could very well disappear if the teams behind them (namely the Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Winnipeg Jets) string together a few consecutive wins. It's an important game with massive playoff implications, even if the season's still less than three-quarters of the way done.
Ottawa's lineup once again remains the same, so Craig Anderson will get the start against his former team:
Although I don't know the Panthers lines, they could look like this:
Some storylines I'll be watching tonight:
- Turris turnaround: Kyle Turris had a game-high five shots last night, and nearly that many good scoring chances. Points are going to start coming again soon, but will they start coming tonight?
- Spezza's streak: Jason Spezza has an absolutely ridiculous 10P (5G, 5A) in his last four games, including a four-point night yesterday. How will he follow that night up?
- Anderson's fatigue: Yesterday's win was Craig Anderson's first regulation victory in nearly a month (since Jan. 19, to be exact). Is his playing time catching up with him?
- Tight defence: The Panthers have allowed just three goals against over the course of their current three-game winning streak. Will Ottawa be able to break through their stonewall?