Less than 24 hours after suffering a crushing loss in Boston, the Florida Panthers look to pick up the pieces when they host the Minnesota Wild in a game that is critical for each of both teams’ playoff chances.
Florida currently trails the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes by 11 points for one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference standings. Minnesota’s currently in playoff position, but just three points ahead of the surprising Arizona Coyotes and four ahead of the Colorado Avalanche for the final wild card in the West. BetOnline lists the Wild as -118 moneyline favorites in this one, and the Over/Under sits at 6 with -111 juice on the Over.
How (or if) the Panthers bounce back tonight will go a long way towards determining the outcome in this one. Florida looked well on its way to a huge upset victory over the Bruins last night — and a regulation point at the very least — when it nursed a 3-2 lead into the final minute of the third period. However, Boston quickly turned the tables on the Panthers, tying the game with 37 seconds left and then scoring the winning goal with just seven ticks left on the clock.
Instead of earning a confidence-building victory, the Panthers were left with their sixth straight defeat. Those losses are probably also taking an emotional toll on Florida, since all of them have come by one goal — including four of them in overtime or a shootout. That’s a lot to handle for a team that hasn’t had more than one day off between games since mid-February and is playing its third set of back-to-backs in the last two weeks.
Left for dead on the shoulder of the playoff-picture highway a couple of weeks ago, the Wild is suddenly back in the thick of things. That’s what a 6-0-2 spurt will do for a team, and Minnesota’s hot run is no fluke. It’s one thing to fatten up on the league lightweights, it’s another to consistently earn points against elite opponents. In Minnesota’s last six games, the Wild has defeated postseason-bound opponents Tampa Bay, Calgary, Winnipeg and St. Louis while earning points in a pair of shootout losses to the Nashville Predators.
The Wild is also getting the job done at both ends of the ice right now. Just once in Minny’s last eight games has the Wild allowed more than two goals in the opening 60 minutes, while the Wild has scored at least three goals in six of those eight as well.
These teams are headed in drastically different directions, and I expect both of those trends to continue tonight. Short rest is a great thing when things are going well, but it’s the worst possible thing for the Panthers right now. Minnesota’s won 17 of the last 22 matchups between these squads and I’m betting they’re 18-5 in the last 23 after tonight. Minnesota Wild -117 is my favorite NHL play of the week.