SUNRISE (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – The fight for the Atlantic Division should be an exciting one as the NHL season nears the playoffs.
The Ottawa Senators are challenging for first place while trying to hold on tight to a playoff position in the crowded Eastern Conference as they visit the division-rival Florida Panthers on Sunday night.
The Senators are four points behind division-leading Montreal and two up on the New York Islanders – the ninth-place team in the East – after a disappointing 3-0 loss at Carolina on Friday.
Ottawa will likely be without three key injured forwards – Mark Stone (neck), Mike Hoffman (groin) and Bobby Ryan (finger) – again as they attempt to rejuvenate an offense that produced four goals in the last three games.
“You can’t use injuries as an excuse,” Senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf told reporters. “Every team in this league goes through it. We did a good job in New Jersey (2-1 win Tuesday). We just didn’t play well enough (in Carolina).”
The Panthers were plagued by injuries through the first half of the season and responded with an 8-1-1 surge when they got some regulars back recently, but dropped the last two games at home.
“We have to move on,” Florida defenseman Keith Yandle told reporters. “We have a big test Sunday and we have to be ready. There’s a lot of (scoreboard) watching, but we need to focus on the way we have to play.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, TVAS, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360 (Ottawa), FSN Florida
ABOUT THE SENATORS (32-21-6): The absence of Stone and Hoffman takes two of the team’s top four scorers out of the lineup, so more pressure goes on the backs of the defense and goaltenders.
Craig Anderson, who spent two months away from the team while attending to his wife during her cancer treatments, has been outstanding in five games since returning (3-2-0, .941 save percentage).
Defenseman Erik Karlsson tops Ottawa with 42 assists and 52 points while Kyle Turris owns 20 goals – two behind Stone’s team-high total of 22.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (28-22-10): Florida’s special teams continue to shine as three of their five goals in the last two contests came on the power play while the penalty killers are 13-for-13 in a six-game stretch.
Aleksander Barkov was the most productive offensive player of late for the Panthers, scoring his seventh goal in nine February games Friday in the 4-2 loss to Calgary.
Fellow center Vincent Trocheck leads the team with 42 points despite going without one in the last two contests after recording a six-game point streak (three goals, five assists).
- Florida G Roberto Luongo is two wins from tying Curtis Joseph (454) for fourth on the NHL’s all-time list.
- Ottawa recalled Fs Phil Varone and Mike Blunden while sending Fs Max McCormick and Casey Bailey to the AHL.
- The Panthers won two of the three meetings this season, including a 6-5 triumph on Jan. 31 at home.
(TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)