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Arizona Coyotes visit Florida Panthers on third stop of late season road trip

Florida fights to stay afloat in the Eastern conference wild card race as the Coyotes visit with plans of their own.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

This is the second of two season tilts between the Arizona Coyotes and the Florida Panthers, the first of which came in late January at Gila River Arena. The Coyotes eked out a 3-2 win thanks to the overtime heroics of Tobias Reider.

While Coyotes fans have surely been disappointed by a lackluster season, most of the Arizona faithful realize that the franchise is undergoing a major transition and is likely to struggle as the young core solidifies. Florida, on the other hand, is one year removed from an Atlantic division title and is on the brink of playoff elimination.

View From Arizona

The Coyotes continue to play the role of spoiler as a team who knew shortly into the season that it wouldn’t likely be a playoff contender. Management, the coaching staff, and fans instead should focus on silver linings and signs for the future: most notably, the electrifying play of young pups like Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun, among others.

The youngsters were on full display Tuesday night in Tampa Bay, as rookie Christian Fischer netted his third NHL goal in as many NHL shots. Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s tying goal came on assists from Domi and Anthony Duclair, and Coyotes emerged with a 5-3 victory.

View From Florida

For more info on the Florida Panthers, check out Litter Box Cats.

The wild card race in the Eastern conference has been a tight one for most of the 2016-17 season, but as the campaign winds down, the contenders have begun to separate themselves. Florida’s 4-3 loss at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday is its eight losing effort in ten games; the odds a Panthers playoff berth have become a long shot at best.

Florida is beyond a formidable opponent, even if this year’s playoff picture happens to feature them on the outside looking in. With skill on the blue line like Aaron Ekblad and former Coyote Keith Yandle accompanying a crew of forwards anchored by a top line of Justin Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr, this team is capable of picking up two points on any given night.

Three Questions

1. Will the Coyotes bring sorrow to another Florida fan base? - After dealing a disheartening blow to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s playoff hopes on Tuesday night, Arizona has a chance to do it again this evening. A loss tonight for the Panthers would all but eliminate them from playoff contention.

2. Will Christian Fischer continue to make his mark? - Fischer is one of the many young players in the Coyotes’ system with serious potential. He’s had a knack for finding the back of the net during a handful of games against NHL competition, and undoubtedly wants to continue to prove he belongs with the big boys.

3. Can Arizona crack Florida’s air-tight penalty killing unit? - The Panthers kill a league best 85.9 percent of the penalties they take.

Players to Watch

Arizona - Lawson Crouse - Crouse was traded from Florida to Arizona in a 2016 off-season deal. He’ll be looking to make his presence known in his first visit to BB&T Center since the trade.

Florida- Aleksander Barkov - This 21-year-old center has established himself as a formidable offensive force in the NHL. He’s got 20 points in his last 21 games.

Injury Report

Arizona - Shane Doan is expected to return to the lineup tonight after being sidelined with a lower body injury. Kevin Connnauton, Alex Burmistrov, and Brad Richardson remain inactive.

Florida- Goaltender Roberto Luongo and centerman Denis Malgin are day-to-day with a lower body injury and a concussion, respectively.

Puck Drop

Tonight’s game starts at 4:30pm Arizona time. You can watch it on Fox Sports Arizona Plus, Fox Sports Go, or listen to it on ESPN Radio Phoenix 620 AM.