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"Acch" Trick: Acciari on Fire as Panthers visit Hurricanes

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

On the heels of back-to-back hat tricks, blazingly-hot forward Noel Acciari will lead the Florida Panthers into their matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at PNC Arena.

After recording the first hat trick of his career in Monday's 6-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, the 28-year-old copy and pasted that performance in Friday's 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars, joining Pavel Bure as the only two players in franchise history to post hat tricks in consecutive games.

Entering this week, Acciari had just 23 goals in 209 career NHL games.

"He's like the best guy in the world, so to see him score back-to-back hat tricks, it couldn't happen to a better guy," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. "It was a lot of fun watching him turn into 'Noel Gretzky' out there, so hopefully it continues."

Scoring all three goals within a span of 3:59, Acciari's second hat trick was also the fastest in franchise history.

"[It felt] just as good," said Acciari, who capped off his second hat trick with a shorthanded penalty shot. "As a line we were playing well together. Huby [Jonathan Huberdeau] got that power play goal to get us going and then Troch [Trocheck] with the big goal around the net, that was huge. I mean, like I've said before, playing with those guys, it's a lot of fun. You've just got to get open and they find you and they've been doing that lately. It's just been a lot of fun."

That line certainly as been clicking for the Panthers, as the trio of Huberdeau, Trocheck and Acciari has combined for eight goals and 11 assists in the two games they've played together.

Huberdeau, who leads the Panthers and ranks eighth in the league with 45 points, has notched four points in each of the last two games -- including a career-high four assists on Monday night -- while Trocheck recorded a season-high three points (one goal, three assists) on Friday night.

In addition to Acciari's hat trick, Huberdeau, Trocheck, Colton Sceviour and Anton Stralman also found the back of the net against the Stars, who boast the league's top-ranked defense. Scoring 13 goals in their last two games, Florida is averaging the fourth-most goals in the league (3.50).

"One of the strengths of this team is that we have a deep lineup," Trocheck said. "We have a lot of guys that contribute every night. Obviously we have guys like Barky [Aleksander Barkov] and Huby [Huberdeau] who are going to be on the scoresheet every night, but nights that they don't it's going to be up to us other guys to step up, and tonight it came from everywhere."

In dominating Dallas, the Panthers finished their franchise-record, nine-game homestand with a 5-4-0 record. Sitting at 17-12-5 on the season, they currently rest one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division, but also still have a pair of games in hand.

Tonight's game in Carolina will mark Florida's first road contest since Nov. 27.

"I'd stay here forever," Huberdeau said with a smile when asked about finally leaving the friendly confines of Sunrise after beating the Stars. "Obviously we have two huge games on the road before Christmas break. We've just got to get these two wins. It starts tomorrow in Carolina."

The Hurricanes (22-11-2) are coming off a 3-1 win at the Colorado Avalanche that capped of a 4-1-0 road trip and extended the team's point streak to seven games. In the win, Jaccob Slavin, a Colorado native, scored a go-ahead goal just 1:17 after Carolina tied it late the third period.

"We were pushing pretty good, we had some good looks in the third and we're getting ready to pull the goalie and then bang one home," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour told reporters after the game. "So, it changed the complexion. It's obviously nice to see Slavs get the game winner, hometown kid. It feels great for him and his family. All in all, good trip."

Andrei Svechnikov leads the Hurricanes with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) and has posted four goals and three assists over his last seven games. Sebastian Aho, meanwhile, paces the club and ranks tied for fourth in the league with 21 goals, including eight of his last six games.

With no starters announced, either James Reimer or Petr Mrazek could be in net for Carolina, while Chris Driedger could be between the pipes for the Panthers after Sergei Bobrovsky got the nod during each of the last seven games. In his two appearances this season, Driedger owns a 1-1-0 record with a 1.53 goals-against average, .942 save percentage and one shutout.

The final game of their season series, Carolina has gone 2-0-0 against Florida this season.

"Not every night's going to be 6-1 or a 7-4 win," Acciari said. "We have to learn to win 2-1, 1-0 games. I think the past two games we've played complete games. We're on our way to doing that. We can play a tough, gritty game, too."

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Noel Acciari is the first player in the league to record consecutive hat tricks since Washington's Alex Ovechkin in December of 2018. With six goals over his last two games, the 28-year-old forward has already set a new career-high in goals (11) and also has matched his career-best point total (14). He also leads the Panthers in hits (56) and ranks second in blocks (47).

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers and ranks eight in the league with 45 points. He also leads the team and ranks tied for fourth in the league in assists (30). Over his last 22 games, the 26-year-old winger has recorded 32 points (seven goals, 25 assists).

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on Florida in points (39) and assists (28). Over his last 22 games, the 24-year-old center has notched 26 points (11 goals and 15 assists). He also leads the team in power-play goals (6) and multi-point games (14).

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in average ice time per game (23:51) and also paces the club's defensemen in goals (5) and plus-minus (+16). Posting five goals and 16 assists so far this season, the 23-year-old has notched three goals and eight assists over his last 13 games.

-- Mike Hoffman has posted five points (two goals, three assists) over his last seven games. The 30-year-old winger ranks tied for second on Florida in goals (12) and is also fifth in points (23).

-- Keith Yandle ranks second among the league's defensemen in assists (25) and power-play points (15). The 33-year-old paces Florida's defensemen and ranks tied for fourth among the league's blueliners with 29 points, including two goals and nine assists over his last 10 games.

-- Sergei Bobrovsky has started each of the last seven games for the Panthers, posting a .943 save percentage in that span. The 31-year-old goaltender owns a 13-9-4 record this season.

-- Evgenii Dadonov ranks fourth in points (25) and tied for second in goals (12) on the Panthers.

-- Vincent Trocheck has recorded four goals and eight assists over his last 16 games to push his point total on the season up to 18 (five goals, 13 assists). The 26-year-old center also leads Florida in faceoff win percentage (54.7) and takeaways (28).

-- Brett Connolly leads the Panthers with 14 goals.

PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)

Forwards

Frank Vatrano - Aleksander Barkov - Brett Connolly

Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari

Mike Hoffman - Brian Boyle - Evgenii Dadonov

Colton Sceviour - Dominic Toninato - Mark Pysyk

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Keith Yandle - Anton Stralman

Mike Matheson - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Scratches: Denis Malgin

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Dec. 11: F Jayce Hawryluk was assigned to AHL Springfield on a conditioning loan.

- Dec. 11: F Aleksi Saarela was loaned to AHL Springfield.

- Dec. 6: F Aleksi Saarela was recalled from AHL Springfield.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Saturday, Dec. 21, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: PNC Arena - Raleigh, NC

TV: FSF

Stream: FOX Sports GO

Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast); SIRIUSXM STREAMING 932

Territory on Tap Locations: HERE

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