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Preview: Ducks Open Penultimate Homestand Against Surging Panthers

by Kyle Shohara @kyleshohara /

It was the kind of win that had everyone on the Ducks bench feeling good. The kind of win that might not have happened a few months ago when they were spiraling downward. A thrilling and, perhaps, stunning come-from-behind 5-3 victory over a well-rested Colorado Avalanche team desperately trying to stay alive in the playoff race. They were like the Ducks of seasons past - a poised, battle-tested group that bent, but didn't break, despite playing on short rest after traveling in the middle of the night.

These Ducks are playing for one another and building for the future. Ryan Getzlaf said it himself after his dominant three-point performance in the win on Friday. "We've been trying to work on our game. That's the biggest thing. We spent half the season battling against ourselves, basically. Now we're taking a lot more pride in the way we want to play and the way we want to build for next season."

The "kids" - 21-year-olds Troy Terry and Max Jones, and 22-year-old Daniel Sprong (celebrating his birthday today) are leaving their marks now, which could bode well for them next season. The vets, like Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Jakob Silfverberg, are also thriving under a new system that emphasizes a faster brand of hockey than before.

With the season quickly coming to an end (only nine games remain), this marks the penultimate homestand of 2018-19 for the Ducks. It starts tonight with a matchup against the Florida Panthers, the series finale between the two clubs that opened with a 3-2 Ducks victory at BB&T Center on Nov. 28. That night, Nick Ritchie scored a career-high two goals while Josh Manson recorded the second-fastest goal to open a game in franchise history at 15 seconds - only seven seconds shy of the club record set by Paul Kariya in 1997. The Ducks are 15-15-4 all-time vs. the Panthers, including an 8-8-1 mark at home. Perry enters tonight's game with 15 points (6g/9a) in 16 career games vs. Florida, tops among active Ducks.

Like the Ducks, the Panthers are on the outside looking in, but they've been red hot lately. They've won four straight games, including road victories in San Jose (Thursday) and in LA (yesterday afternoon). They've outscored their opponents 20-8 during their streak and sit eight points out of a playoff spot. Early returns on rookie goaltender Sam Montembeault have been strong, as the 22-year-old has won four straight, and has gone 4-0-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in his first five NHL starts.

With three assists yesterday against the Kings, Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov reached 81 points on the season to join Hall-of-Famer Pavel Bure (1999-00, 2000-01) and Olli Jokinen (2005-06, 2006-07) as the only players in the 25-year history of the franchise to reach 80 points or more. The 23-year-old center is on a torrid five-game point streak, earning 13 points (2g/11a) over that span.

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