Under normal circumstances, January is a brutal proving ground for NHL playoff wannabes. But this season, a year interrupted by a two-week break for the Winter Olympics, the reality is even more severe. Any team, like our own Florida Panthers, hanging around the fringes of the postseason tree needs a winning record in this midwinter month if it wants to survive the inevitable Vancouver 2010 hangover not to mention those perennial late-schedule injuries and slumps.
So, this Wednesday, when the Panthers face off against Alex Ovechkin and his league-leading Washington Capitals at 7:30 p.m., consider it an early test of whether Floridas for real. Are the Cats legitimate contenders or lame chumps? Can Florida overcome the weak goaltending of Vokoun and Clemmensen? Will the concussed David Booth ever return? Both fans and doubters should head to BankAtlantic Center (1 Panther Parkway, Sunrise) to have their questions half-answered. A bit of dire foreshadowing: The last battle between these two Southeast Division rivals ended with a 6-2 Panthers beatdown. Tickets cost $10 to $225. Visit floridapanthers.com.
Wed., Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., 2010