(SportsNetwork.com) - 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 [period]."
Pirri has 16 goals this season and 13 of them have come over the last 18 games.
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 Florida.