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Panthers at Kings preview

Florida can move past Maple Leafs in Atlantic; Vilardi to make NHL debut for Los Angeles

by Dan Greenspan / Independent Correspondent

PANTHERS (32-22-6) at KINGS (21-34-5)

10:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, FS-F, NHL.TV

The Game

The Florida Panthers can take sole possession of third place in the Atlantic Division when they play the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Thursday.

The Panthers are tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who play the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Florida is playing the second game of a back-to-back after defeating the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Wednesday. The Panthers have won the first two games of a five-game road trip following a 1-5-1 stretch in its previous seven.

Gabriel Vilardi, the No. 11 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, will make his NHL debut after being recalled from Ontario of the American Hockey League. He'll replace Jeff Carter, who has a lower-body injury. Vilardi has 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 32 AHL games.

The Kings are playing for the first time since defenseman Alec Martinez was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on Wednesday. Los Angeles is 2-1-0 in its past three games but is last in the Western Conference.

Players to watch

Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad has five assists during a four-game point streak.

Kings forward Anze Kopitar has six assists during a three-game point streak.

They said it

"There's positive energy in the locker room and on the ice, on the bench. We're having fun. We're playing for each other. That's the way we want to play. We're getting wins, and there's nothing better than winning games." -- Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov

"It's a dream come true obviously. My first game, so I'm ready to go. I'm pretty nervous but I'll settle down once I get on the ice." -- Kings forward Gabriel Vilardi

Panthers projected lineup

Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Noel Acciari

Mike Hoffman -- Vincent Trocheck -- Mark Pysyk

Frank Vatrano -- Dominic Toninato -- Evgenii Dadonov

Colton Sceviour -- Aleksi Saarela -- Brett Connolly

MacKenzie Weegar -- Aaron Ekblad

Keith Yandle -- Josh Brown

Riley Stillman -- Anton Stralman

Sam Montembeault

Sergei Bobrovsky

Scratched: Dryden Hunt

Injured: Chris Driedger (groin), Mike Matheson (illness), Brian Boyle (upper body)

Kings projected lineup

Alex Iafallo -- Anze Kopitar -- Dustin Brown

Adrian Kempe -- Gabriel Vilardi -- Martin Frk

Austin Wagner -- Blake Lizotte -- Trevor Moore

Trevor Lewis -- Michael Amadio -- Tim Schaller

Derek Forbort -- Drew Doughty

Kurtis MacDermid -- Sean Walker

Ben Hutton -- Matt Roy

Jonathan Quick

Calvin Petersen

Scratched: Joakim Ryan, Nikolai Prokhorkin

Injured: Jeff Carter (lower body)

Status report

Carter was injured during the 6-3 loss at the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday but could play against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, Kings coach Todd McLellan said. … Vilardi will center the second line and be used on the power play. … The Panthers did not hold a morning skate after playing Wednesday. Hunt, a forward, was recalled from Spingfield of the American Hockey League.

Stat pack

Trocheck has scored in consecutive games for the first time this season. He has three points (two goals, one assist) in his past two games. … The Panthers are 0-for-19 on the power play in their past seven games. … The Kings have killed 18 of 19 penalties (94.7 percent) in their past 10 games.

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