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Panthers' Pirri returns to lineup vs. Red Wings

Forward was scratched in four straight; Jagr also ready to go

by Alain Poupart @apoupartFins / Correspondent

RED WINGS (25-17-8) at PANTHERS (30-15-5) 


SUNRISE, Fla. -- Forward Jaromir Jagr will be in the lineup for the Florida Panthers when they face the Detroit Red Wings at BB&T Center on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-D, FS-F, NHL.TV), but they will have a change in the skating lineup for the first time in five games. 

After going with the same forwards and defensemen during a four-game winning streak that saw them outscore the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals by a combined 19-5, coach Gerard Gallant will reinsert forward Brandon Pirri in the lineup. 

Pirri was a healthy scratch for those four games after failing to score in each of the previous six games.

"It's a good opportunity," Gallant said. "He's missed some games here and we want to get him back in and hopefully he'll play real well and real hard. Brandon is a goal scorer, so hopefully he gets some opportunities tonight." 

Pirri will be skating on a line with center Nick Bjugstad and rookie Logan Shaw.  

Pirri has nine goals in 46 games this season after scoring 22 in 49 games in 2014-15, when he finished second on the team behind Bjugstad's 24. Pirri had a stretch of six goals in seven games in January 2015 after being a healthy scratch three consecutive games. 

"I'm not worried," Pirri said. "This is kind of the same thing that happened last year where I was getting scratched here and there and then I had 30 games there at the end of the year where I played consistently and I finished pretty strong. I'm not worried about it. The team is winning and that's what's important. It's just a matter of not screwing up what we've got going right now. What is it, four games in a row we've won? We're on a good pace. We're where we want to be in the standings, so it's a matter of everyone sticking together, working that much harder to finish where we are." 

Jagr will be in the lineup after sitting out the second half of the third period of the 5-1 victory at Washington on Tuesday. 

The Red Wings also will have a change at forward following their 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Wednesday. 

Center Riley Sheahan will be back in the lineup after sitting out Wednesday with flu-like symptoms. Sheahan said after Detroit's optional skate Thursday that he got sick while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, with his girlfriend during the All-Star break. 

Goalie Jimmy Howard will make only his third start in the past 14 games since being pulled before the third period in two consecutive starts in late December. 

Petr Mrazek made 20 saves on 23 shots against Tampa Bay. 

"What Jimmy will focus on tonight is playing his best hockey," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Jimmy has been an elite goalie at different points in his career in the NHL. We've got lots of belief in Jimmy. With the schedule that we face, you have to be able to have two guys that can help win hockey games, and we need him to go in and be great tonight and help us win a hockey game against a really good team." 

The Panthers defeated the Red Wings 2-1 in overtime at Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 29 in their first game this season. 

Brian Campbell scored in overtime and All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo, who will start Thursday after Al Montoya played in Washington, made 28 saves. Dylan Larkin scored for Detroit and Mrazek made 32 saves. 

The Panthers and Red Wings play again Monday in Detroit. 

The Panthers (30-15-5) lead the Atlantic Division by five points over the Lightning. The Red Wings (25-17-8) are tied for third with the Boston Bruins seven points back. 

"We play similar styles in a lot of ways," Blashill said. "We've both been real good defensively. Florida makes it hard to get second opportunities. Roberto Luongo has been one of the best goalies in the league for a long, long time. All that combined with a good 'D' corps, it's going to be hard to create offense. We've got to find a way to win some of those second battles. We've got to find a way to win the specialty team battles and like every night in this League find a way to gut out a win." 

Here are the projected lines: 

Brad Richards - Pavel Datsyuk - Darren Helm  
Henrik Zetterberg - Dylan Larkin - Justin Abdelkader  
Tomas Tatar - Riley Sheahan - Gustav Nyquist  
Tomas Jurco - Luke Glendening - Joakim Andersson  

Kyle Quincey - Danny DeKeyser  
Brendan Smith - Mike Green  
Jonathan Ericsson - Alexey Marchenko  

Jimmy Howard 
Petr Mrazek 

Injured: Johan Franzen (concussion), Drew Miller (knee), Niklas Kronwall (knee) 
Scratched: Jakub Kindl, Teemu Pulkkinen  

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr  
Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith  
Brandon Pirri - Nick Bjugstad - Logan Shaw 
Quinton Howden - Derek MacKenzie - Corban Knight  

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson  
Dmitry Kulikov - Aaron Ekblad  
Steven Kampfer - Alex Petrovic  

Roberto Luongo 
Al Montoya 

Injured: Willie Mitchell (lower body), Dave Bolland (lower body) 
Scratched: Shawn Thornton  

Status report: The Red Wings recalled Kindl from the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League on Thursday and Blashill said he would stay as the seventh defenseman for the foreseeable future. … Mitchell skated Thursday before leaving the ice early and will miss his fifth consecutive game. Gallant said Mitchell was close to returning to action. 

Who's hot: Reilly Smith has four goals and two assists during a five-game point streak. … Barkov (two goals, three assists) and Jokinen (one goal, four assists) each have a four-game point streak. … Four of DeKeyser's six goals this season came in the past 10 games. … Datsyuk has 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 17 games against Florida. … Florida has killed off 21 of 22 penalties over the past seven games, including all eight in its victory at Washington. … Jagr needs one assist to become the sixth player in NHL history with 1,100 career assists.


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