Panthers look to get on track against Red Wings

( – The fading Florida Panthers will try to avoid a third
straight loss when they host the Detroit Red Wings in Thursday’s Atlantic
Division battle at BB&T Center.

Florida has lost two straight in regulation, giving the playoff hopeful club a
5-6-2 record over their last 13 games. The inconsistent stretch has the
Panthers seven points behind Boston for a postseason spot with only 12 games
left on their schedule.

The most recent loss came Tuesday against Montreal, as the Panthers fell 3-2
in the opener of a three-game homestand. Florida hopes to get back on track
tonight against Detroit before hosting the Bruins in Saturday’s showdown.

Florida outshot the Canadiens, 43-25, on Tuesday but Dustin Tokarski
frustrated the Cats with a 41-save performance. All five goals in the tilt
were scored in the second period, with Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban
providing the game-winner with 4:34 remaining in the period.

Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Pirri each scored for the Panthers, while Dan
Ellis, making his sixth straight start in place of an injured Roberto Luongo,
turned aside 22 saves in the loss.

“It seemed like we threw everything at them,” said Pirri. “You have to give
[Tokarski] credit; he made some saves. We can’t leave it until the third

Pirri has 16 goals this season and 13 of them have come over the last 18

Luongo, sidelined with a shoulder injury since March 3, could return to the
lineup tonight. He participated in the morning skate Tuesday but did not suit
up against the Habs. If Florida’s No. 1 netminder is unable to go then Ellis
will make a seventh straight start.

Detroit, meanwhile, is expected to be without star forward Pavel Datsyuk
tonight, when the club tries to strengthen its hold on the third and final
automatic playoff bid from the Atlantic Division.

Datsyuk posted an assist in the Red Wings’ last game, Sunday’s 5-1 rout of
Pittsburgh, but he did not skate on Wednesday and Detroit coach Mike Babcock
said the centerman is likely to miss the next two games with an undisclosed
injury. The 36-year-old Russian is second on Detroit with 58 points (23 goals,
35 assists) in 57 games.

The Red Wings ended a two-game slide and won for just the second time in six
games with Sunday’s victory in Pittsburgh. The club enters Thursday with 87
points, four more than fourth-place Boston in the division standings. The
Bruins visit Ottawa this evening.

Detroit opened the scoring in the Steel City when Riley Sheahan tallied just
81 seconds into the game. Teemu Pulkkinen scored his first of two goals on the
day with 1:54 left in the first period and the Red Wings would eventually lead
5-0 by the early stages of the final stanza.

Marek Zidlicky posted a goal and two assists, while Sheahan and Henrik
Zetterberg both notched a goal and an assist for the Red Wings, who were
coming off a 7-2 loss at the hands of the Flyers on Saturday.

“We just needed to bounce back. Everybody goes through some adversity,” said
Babcock. “We were really dialed in. We had great leadership today. For you to
win, for you to fight through adversity, you need good leadership.”

Petr Mrazek allowed just one goal on 43 shots for Detroit. Mrazek is expected
to start again tonight, while No. 1 goalie Jimmy Howard will likely get the
call tomorrow night in Tampa when the Wings complete a four-game road trip.

Florida has taken two of three from the Red Wings in 2014-15 and will try to
win the season series in tonight’s finale. Detroit posted a 5-4 win at BB&T
Center on Jan. 27 in the most recent meeting between the clubs, giving the
clubs victories in three straight and eight of the last 10 encounters in South