(SportsNetwork.com) - The Florida Panthers will try to defeat the Detroit Red Wings for the third time in as many meetings this season, as they host an Atlantic Division battle Friday at BB&T Center.
The Panthers and Red Wings met twice in a span of a few days earlier this month and Florida won both encounters, taking a 2-1 regulation decision in Detroit on Dec. 7 before recording a 3-2 home shootout victory on Dec. 10.
Tim Thomas recorded both wins against the Red Wings and is expected to play tonight for the first time since Dec. 10. Thomas had been bothered by a groin injury recently, but was activated from injured reserve earlier this week, while goaltender Jacob Markstrom was sent back down to the AHL.
Thomas, a two-time Vezina winner during his productive stint in Boston, is 3-3-0 with a 2.51 goals against average in seven career games (six starts) against the Red Wings.
Florida enters Saturday's tilt on a two-game slide and the drought comes on the heels of a season-best five-game winning streak. After having the streak halted with a 5-2 loss at Winnipeg on Dec. 20, the Panthers were slammed by the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, dropping a 6-1 decision against their intra-state rivals.
Martin St. Louis had one goal and two assists to help lead the rout in Sunrise. Sean Bergenheim tallied the lone goal for the Panthers, while Scott Clemmensen allowed all six goals on 36 shots in the setback.
"It got worse as the game went on, obviously, and they didn't play with a lot of energy, a lot of conviction or resolve," Florida interim coach Peter Horachek said of his squad. "We kind of left (Clemmensen) there hanging quite a few times."
The lopsided loss to the Bolts was a bad way to start a five-game homestand for the Panthers, who are just 7-8-3 as the host this season.
Florida will not have defenseman Erik Gudbranson or forward Scottie Upshall for the second tilt on this residency. Gudbranson underwent surgery to repair a broken orbital bone on Monday and is expected to miss 3-to-4 weeks of action. Upshall will miss Saturday's test after suffering an upper-body injury on Monday, but he is considered day-to-day.
Detroit, meanwhile, expects to have captain Henrik Zetterberg and fellow forward Justin Abdelkader back tonight. Zetterberg has missed the last 11 games since suffering a herniated disc in his back earlier this month, but he is still leading the team with 30 points on 11 goals and 19 assists.
Abdelkader has missed the last five games with a concussion. He has three goals and 10 assists in 34 games this season.
Even with the return of Abdelkader and Zetterberg, the Red Wings are still dealing with injuries to a host of key players, including goaltender Jimmy Howard, forwards Johan Franzen and Stephan Weiss and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson.
The hobbled Red Wings lost for the seventh time in nine games on Monday, as they had a two-game win streak halted by the visiting New York Islanders. Evgeni Nabokov stopped all 23 shots he faced and received three first-period goals to help the Isles down Detroit by a 3-0 score at Joe Louis Arena.
Petr Mrazek came up with just 16 saves in the loss.
"We didn't really give him much help," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said of Mrazek. "What's he going to do? He came up with some big saves for us. We didn't give him a chance."
Jonas Gustavsson could get the call in net for Detroit tonight and is 2-5-0 with a 3.10 GAA in seven career games (six starts) against Florida.