Oilers-Panthers Preview


Despite dropping their latest contest, the Florida Panthers remain in good position to win their first division title.

The Panthers hope to record a club-record sixth straight home victory Friday night, but to do so they'll need to overcome their recent struggles against the Edmonton Oilers.

Though Florida's season-high five-game winning streak was snapped with a 3-1 loss at Carolina on Wednesday, the Panthers (36-24-13) still lead second-place Washington by four points atop the Southeast Division.

The Panthers may be able to wrap up the title - and no worse than the No. 3 playoff seed - over their next five games, which are all against opponents with losing records. After hosting Edmonton (29-36-9) and the New York Islanders, they visit Montreal, Minnesota and Columbus.

While that stretch may not appear difficult, veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski knows the Panthers can't take anything for granted after a lackluster effort against a Carolina team trying to hold on to its slim playoff hopes.

"We knew that we just couldn't throw our sticks in there and be handed two points,'' said Jovanovski, who had an assist Wednesday. "We knew we had to work hard."

After not allowing more than two goals in any of the previous six games, Florida fell behind 2-0 to the Hurricanes before Tomas Fleischmann matched a career high with his team-leading 23rd goal in the second period. The Panthers, who had been 5 for 11 on the power play in their previous four games, went 0 for 5 at Carolina.

"That was not our expectations to try to play a loose game," coach Kevin Dineen told the Panthers' official website. "Areas that have been strengths for us, board play, special teams were an issue."

Fleischmann continues to play well, posting three goals and three assists in his last seven games. He also has a goal in each of his last three games versus Edmonton.

Returning home could provide a spark for the Panthers, who have outscored the opposition 20-8 during their five-game winning streak at the BankAtlantic Center. Jose Theodore has been in net for all of those contests, posting a 1.57 goals-against average.

Florida, however, has dropped three straight at home to the Oilers since a 5-4 victory there March 8, 2002. Edmonton has also taken six of the last seven overall meetings in the series, outscoring the Panthers 22-12 in that span.

Edmonton will miss the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season and lost 3-2 in a shootout at Tampa Bay on Thursday, but is 3-0-2 since a three-game skid. Nikolai Khabibulin made 19 saves Thursday, his first game back in Tampa since Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup, when he helped the Lightning win their only championship.

"We wanted to get this one for him,'' Edmonton coach Tom Renney said. "The guys talked about that, and certainly he wanted it.

"I thought we worked hard and gave everything we could to claw our way back to get a point."

Khabibulin has been splitting time with Devan Dubnyk, who has compiled a 1.47 GAA while winning three of his last four starts.

Edmonton center Shawn Horcoff has one point in his last seven games overall, but has a goal in each of his last two versus Florida.