Tue, 18 May 2021

Focused on Central Division title, Panthers host Jackets

Field Level Media
19 Apr 2021, 04:55 GMT+10

The Florida Panthers will attempt to stay in the thick of the Central Division title race Monday when they play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a two-game series in Sunrise.

The Panthers beat Tampa Bay 5-3 on Saturday night which put them a point back of Carolina for first place with 11 games remaining.

Columbus, which has lost five of its six games to the Panthers this season, is going in the other direction and is just trying to stay out of the Central basement.

The Blue Jackets come into Monday one point ahead of last-place Detroit.

Following Saturday's 5-1 loss in Dallas, Columbus has lost five consecutive games (0-4-1) and eight of the past nine (1-7-1).

"I thought we played a good first period and then, for whatever reason, we took our foot off the gas," Columbus forward Cam Atkinson said after the loss in Dallas. "That's what happens. We go from playing on our toes and trying to make plays to just sitting back."

The Panthers are coming off a six-game road trip that did not start off well but ended on a high note.

After losing the first three in Carolina and Dallas, Florida bounced back with an overtime win against the Stars and then went 1-0-1 against the Lightning.

The Panthers lost three of four to the Lightning last season but have split six games against Tampa Bay this season.

"You take that every day of the week, any day of the year," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said after his team took three of four potential points against the Lightning. "We're happy to go home. It has been a long trip."

The Panthers are expected to start Sergei Bobrovsky at least in the series opener.

Bobrovsky spent seven seasons with the Blue Jackets before leaving to sign a franchise-record seven-year, $70 million deal with the Panthers in 2019.

Since leaving Columbus, Bobrovsky is 5-1-1 against the Blue Jackets including 4-0 this season. Bobrovsky has made 93 percent of his saves in his six career starts against the Blue Jackets.

Chris Driedger will likely get the start in Game 2 on Tuesday.

"I know Columbus is a good, hard-working team and that they put the puck on the net, work around the net," Bobrovsky said after winning in Columbus last month.

"I respect those guys, that organization a lot. It's a great feeling to get the two points."

For Columbus, Elvis Merzlikins could get the opening night start against the Panthers after coming out of the bullpen on Saturday night.

Joonas Korpisalo, Bobrovsky's one-time backup, started against Dallas and was pulled in the second period after giving up four goals on 16 shots -- including three on five in the second.

The Blue Jackets are trudging ahead after losing key players to injury (Zach Werenski, Boone Jenner) and trades (Nick Foligno, David Savard).

Since March 22, Columbus has won just two of 14 games.

While Columbus was losing players at the deadline, Florida added a few and has worked them into the lineup.

Saturday, defenseman Brandon Montour got a goal in his second game while Nikita Gusev assisted on a Patric Hornqvist goal. Sam Bennett, making his Florida debut, notched two assists in the win.

"That was a lot of fun," said Bennett, who was playing the fourth line in Calgary but is centering Florida's second.

"We have a really good team here, a great group of guys. It definitely feels good to get a win in my first game."

--Field Level Media

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