Detroit, which is six points ahead of Nashville for the division lead, earned a third straight win Thursday night, when the Red Wings pounded Tampa to begin a three-game road trip. The Red Wings are 18-8-2 as the host this year and will complete their current trek Sunday in Minnesota.
Pavel Datsyuk registered two goals to help lead the Red Wings to Thursday's 6-2 rout of the host Lightning. Datsyuk has three goals in his last two games and seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in his last five outings.
Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart returned to the lineup after missing 15 games with a broken jaw suffered on January 7. Forward Valtteri Filppula is expected to miss a fifth straight game with a sprained left knee, but defenseman Ruslan Salei could be back in the lineup this evening after missing last night's game due to personal reasons.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have lost three of their last four games and were dealt a regulation loss Wednesday night by the visiting Flyers. James van Riemsdyk scored what proved to be the game-winner in the second period and the Flyers held on for a 4-2 win at BankAtlantic Center.
"They're a great team and had us on our heels," said Florida head coach Peter DeBoer. "But we battled back and I'm proud of the effort our guys displayed tonight."
Florida, which hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2000, enters tonight seven points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers are wrapping a five-game homestand tonight and have posted a 1-2-1 record so far on the residency. Florida is 12-10-6 as the host this season.
Tonight's tilt marks the only scheduled encounter this season between the Panthers and Red Wings. Florida earned a 2-1 overtime victory last season in Detroit, but the Red Wings have won three of the last five meetings.