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Cross-State Rivals Clash Again as Panthers Host Lightning

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

12/10/19 Morning Skate

12/10/19 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Evgenii Dadonov and defenseman Keith Yandle.

  • 01:25 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - There are always some fireworks when these cross-state rivals clash.

After splitting the first two games of their season-opening series back in October, two of the league's highest-powered offenses will meet once again when the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning resume their heated battle for the Sunshine State on Tuesday night at BB&T Center.

"It's always fun playing an in-state rival, a team that's been at the top the last few years," said Keith Yandle, who leads Florida's defenseman in assists (23) and points (26). "It's always a tough challenge. For us, we've got to come out and have one of our best games of the year."

Opening up the 2019-20 campaign with a home-and-home series, the Lightning won 5-2 in the season opener on Oct. 5. After that, the series shifted to Sunrise, where the Panthers won 4-3.

Entering tonight's rematch, Tampa Bay ranks second in the league in goals per game (3.64), while Florida sits fourth (3.52). Additionally, both clubs also rank in the top-5 on the power play.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov lead the Panthers in scoring with 36 points each, while Brett Connolly has the most goals (14), including scoring eight times in his last 10 games.

For the Lightning, reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 31 points and is locked in a three-way tie with Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point for the most goals (10).

"A big thing for us is to stay out of the [penalty] box," Yandle said. "Obviously when you have a power play like theirs clicking the way they are, it's one of those things where staying out of the box is the best weapon. We've just go to hold onto pucks and find ways to get points."

Owning a 3-1-0 record through the first four games of their current franchise-record, nine-game homestand, the Panthers enter tonight's divisional matchup on the heels of back-to-back wins over the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Starting both halves of the back-to-back, Sergei Bobrovsky was outstanding between the pipes for Florida, stopping a combined 63 of 65 shots to earn two wins in less than 24 hours.

"He was huge," said Panther winger Evgenii Dadonov, who ranks tied for second on the team in goals (11) and fourth in points (23). "Especially playing back-to-back, he had two solid games."

Expected to return to the crease tonight, Bobrovsky has picked up the win in five of his last seven starts. Sitting a 11-6-4 on the season, he's posted a stellar 8-2-2 mark on home ice.

In front of net, the Panthers have also been making strides on defense. Allowing one-or-fewer goals in three of their last four games, they've given up an average of just 6.25 shot attempts per game from high-danger areas at 5-on-5 in that stretch, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

"[Bobrovsky] really gave us some confidence," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought he was solid right at the start of both games. I thought we played well in front of him as well…. I thought we had some possession time and made some good decisions with the puck. We're cutting down on the quality and quantity of the chances against. I'm really happy with Bob."

Improving to 15-9-5 during their current stretch, Florida currently resides in second place in the Atlantic Division and is four points ahead of sixth-place Tampa Bay with one more game played.

After dropping five of their last seven games, the Lightning have fallen to 14-11-3 and are well behind the Presidents' Trophy pace that propelled them to the top of the Eastern Conference last season. On Monday night, they suffered a 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders at home.

"It's frustrating," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper told reporters after the game. "You're going to wake up tomorrow and see 5-1 and clearly it wasn't a 5-1 game. But it was a loss. We left plays out there. There's no question we left some plays out there."

With backup Curtis McElhinney getting the nod last night, the Lightning will likely turn to starter Andrei Vasilevskiy against the Panthers. Last season's Vezina Trophy winner, the 25-year-old netminder owns an 11-8-1 record with a 2.91 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.

Florida has gone 9-4-2 at home this season, while Tampa Bay is 7-5-2 on the road.

"They're a team that we know is going to get on a roll this year," Quenneville said of the Lightning, who finished with a franchise-record 128 points last season. "Right now, we're fighting for space in our playoff race. This is an important two points for us. They're not going anywhere. They're in the mix."

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Jonathan Huberdeau has registered at least one point in 22 of Florida's 29 games and is tied for the team-scoring lead with 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists). Over his last 17 games, the 26-year-old has recorded 23 points (six goals, 17 assists), including six multi-point performances.

-- Aleksander Barkov leads the Panthers in multi-point games (13) and is tied for first in scoring with 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists). As it stands now, his 26 assists are the sixth-most in the league. Over his last 17 games, the 24-year-old center has notched 10 goals and 13 assists.

-- Brett Connolly leads the Panthers with 14 goals. The 27-year-old winger also ranks tied for fifth on the team in points (21). Over his last 10 games, he's scored a team-high eight times.

-- Vincent Trocheck has three goals and five assists over his last 11 games. The 26-year-old center also leads Florida in takeaways (24) and ranks second in faceoff win percentage (54.1).

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in average ice time per game (23:56), while also leading the club's defensemen in goals (5) and ranking second in points (17). Over his last eight games, the 23-year-old has tallied three goals and four assists.

-- Keith Yandle enters tonight's contest on a five-game point streak in which he's posted one goal and seven assists. Among the league's defensemen, the 33-year-old ranks fifth in points (26) and second in assists (23). He also leads the Panthers with 15 points on the power play.

-- Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers in shots (86) and tied for second in goals (11). Over his last 13 games, the 30-year-old winger has racked up 11 points (five goals, six assists) and 44 shots.

-- Noel Acciari ranks first on Florida in hits (42); Anton Stralman has the most blocks (43).

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Brett Connolly

Frank Vatrano - Aleksi Saarela - Noel Acciari

Dominic Toninato - Brian Boyle - Colton Sceviour

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Keith Yandle - Anton Stralman

Mike Matheson - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Scratches: Mark Pysyk, Denis Malgin, Jayce Hawryluk (upper-body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

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

- Nov. 25: G Chris Driedger was recalled from AHL Springfield.

- Nov. 25: G Sam Montembeault was loaned to AHL Springfield.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- 50/50 Raffle

- Same Here South Florida

- Caravan of Joy Toy Drive with NBC6 and Twin Peaks

- Nacho Tots Tuesday

- Holiday Jersey Auction at Florida Panthers Foundation Table

BITE OF BB&T CENTER

- Tofu Tacos for $10 at Select Concession Stands

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Tuesday, Dec. 10, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: FSF

Stream: FOX Sports GO

Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM 220, App/Streaming 932

Tickets: HERE

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