SUNRISE — Although the Florida Panthers were able to exhale on Tuesday night when they officially clinched a playoff spot, they know the work is not done as the Carolina Hurricanes visit FLA Live Arena tonight.
To earn the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers would have to beat the Hurricanes in any fashion.
A victory for Florida would give them 93 points for the season and would pass the New York Islanders (92).
Any sort of loss tonight and the Panthers will open the playoffs Monday night in Boston.
Carolina also needs a win if they want to assure itself the Metropolitan Division title.
The Hurricanes can lose in regulation or in overtime tonight and still get the top seed in the Metro — but only if the New Jersey Devils stay a point back. The Devils visit the Capitals tonight.
Florida will at least know after tonight who it will face in the opening round. It could be these Hurricanes but it more likely will be New Jersey or Boston.
“We’re going to play as well as we possibly can,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “We have been on a run for 2 1/2 months and we have played some pretty fine hockey in that stretch. So that’s our intent.
“The challenge is, so much of the emotion and the pressure you have been riding is out of the room. You have to find a way now to manufacture it. It will be back for Game 1, but tonight, we have to find the energy and the legs Carolina is sort of in the same spot.”
The Panthers will have Alex Lyon as their starting goalie for the eighth consecutive game as he rides a seven-game point streak (6-0-1) into tonight’s game.
”He is probably better rested now than when we first brought him in and had three sets of back-to-backs,” Maurice said. “The intensity of the games have amped up, the pressure of the games are amped up. He has been fantastic each game and looks more relaxed, more efficient, more composed around the net. He is a gamer.”
Newly signed rookie Mike Benning was on the ice Thursday for a very optional morning skate but will not play tonight.
Florida, wanting to get the best possible seeding, is expected to dress its full lineup tonight.
“We have our last game and it is pretty important for us and that is where the focus is on,” Josh Mahura said. “We want to play our best tonight, worry about the playoffs when it is over. They have the same mindset. This is an important game for them. There is a lot to play for on both sides.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
CAROLINA HURRICANES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Even: Money Line (-110/-110); Puck line (CAR -1.5, -265); Over/Under 6.5 (-120/+100)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- This season (Series tied 1-1): Florida 3, Carolina 2 (Nov. 9); Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30)
- All-time regular season series: Carolina leads 70-46-10, 11 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers — First Round of Stanley Cup Playoffs, Game 1 (Time, Opponent TBD)
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 10 Anthony Duclair
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 15 Anton Lundell // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 13 Sam Reinhart
21 Nick Cousins // 6 Colin White // 54 Givani Smith
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
34 Alex Lyon
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald, Mike Benning
Injured: Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Sam Bennett (groin)
PROJECTED CAROLINA HURRICANES LINEUP
86 Teuvo Teravainen // 20 Sebastian Aho // 13 Jesse Puljujarvi
23 Stefan Noesen // 82 Jesperi Kotkaniemi // 88 Martin Necas
48 Jordan Martinook // 11 Jordan Staal // 71 Jesper Fast
18 Jack Drury // 26 Paul Stastny // 24 Seth Jarvis
74 Jaccob Slavin // 8 Brent Burns
76 Brady Skjei // 22 Brett Pesce
41 Shayne Gostisbehere // 5 Jalen Chatfield
32 Antti Raanta
31 Frederik Andersen