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Heading into Bye Week, Panthers Can Put Themselves in Good Position

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers know they can put themselves in prime position to puncture the playoff picture heading into their league-mandated bye week with a victory over the red-hot Calgary Flames at BB&T Center on Friday night.

"Tonight's a big night," said Trocheck, who leads the Panthers with 17 goals. "Every point counts, like we were talking about. In the second half of the season every point's going to matter for us. We've got to go into tonight like it's a playoff game."

The Panthers (18-18-6) are returning home after finishing 1-2-1 road trip with an impressive 7-4 victory in St. Louis on Tuesday. In that game, six different players scored for Florida, with forwards Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau each recording three points.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner said the team would roll the same lineup against the Flames.

"I loved our lines in St. Louis," Boughner said. "Every line gave us something. We had contributions up and down the lineup. I thought we were physical, we were tense, and we were urgent, which we need to be. There's no reason to change."

After a rocky start to their season, the Panthers have slowly climbed their way back into the playoff hunt in recent weeks. Florida currently trails Toronto by 11 points for third place in the Atlantic Division with three games in hand, but will likely have an easier road to the postseason by way of the wild card, where it sits six points behind Carolina with a game in hand.

"It's been a grind," Boughner said. "I think the break's coming at the perfect time for us. Our goal, right before Christmas during that little homestand before we went on the road, was to keep ourselves in the hunt, in striking distance. We've done that."

Since losing starting goaltender Roberto Luongo to a lower-body injury, no Panthers player has likely had a greater hand in keeping Florida's season afloat than backup James Reimer. The 29-year-old netminder owns an 8-5-2 record with a 2.53 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and two shutouts in 15 consecutive starts since Luongo was knocked out of the lineup on Dec. 4.

Reimer is expected to get the nod once again against Calgary.

"Back when Louie went down and we had some injuries a long time ago, it didn't look that great," Boughner said. "We had to battle through that. Reims has given us some good goaltending and has kept us in the hunt. We feel good about where we're at."

The Flames (23-16-4) have won a season-best five games in a row, including a lopsided 5-1 win across the state in Tampa on Thursday night. Johnny Gaudreau, who leads the Flames with 51 points (14-37-51), has tallied nine assists during the winning streak.

"Johnny is maybe the most exciting guy I've watched," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan told the Calgary Sun. "You don't know what's going to happen when he's out there he's so dynamic.

"He gets the best looks in the league. He puts himself in position to create and shoot. Just the way he navigates on the ice and can handle the puck, it's pretty amazing. For not a big guy, he can strip guys of pucks and get opportunities. He is our engine for generating offense."

Facing a team on the second half of a back-to-back, the Panthers plan to establish their game early.

"I think we'll come out flying tonight," Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic said.

NOTES

- The Panthers rank first in the league with eight shorthanded goals this season. Barkov leads the way with a league-leading four, while Trocheck has notched two. Colton Sceviour and Derek MacKenzie each have one. Over their last 22 games, Florida owns a 88.9 percent success rate on the penalty kill, allowing seven power play goals.

- Over Florida's last three games, the team has registered a total of 120 shots. Trocheck (Jan. 7 at CBJ) and Barkov (Jan. 5 at DET) each produced a career-high 10 shots during the three-game span. Since Jan. 1, Trocheck leads the league with 28 shots on goal.

- Huberdeau has scored seven goals and 11 points over his last eight games played and enters tonight's matchup against Calgary riding a four-game point streak (3-4-7). Huberdeau has posted a team-leading 43 points (16-27-43) this season, while leading the Panthers with 12 even-strength goals. Florida is 13-8-3 when Huberdeau records a point this season.

- Calgary is 4-2-0 in the second game of a back-to-back this season.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Jamie McGinn - Vincent Trocheck - Nick Bjugstad

Connor Brickley - Denis Malgin - Radim Vrbata

Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour

Defense

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk

MacKenzie Weegar - Alex Petrovic

Goalies

James Reimer

Harri Sateri

Scratches: Ian McCoshen, Jared McCann

Injured Reserve: Roberto Luongo (games missed: 15)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Jan. 12: F Maxim Mamin loaned to Springfield (AHL)

- Jan. 1: F Maxim Mamin recalled from Springfield (AHL)

- Dec. 17: F Dryden Hunt loaned to Springfield (AHL)

HOW TO WATCH

When: Friday, Jan. 12, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV coverage: FOX Sports Florida (check local listings)

Florida Panthers Radio Network Presented by HARD Lifestyle Beverages: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Where to stream it: FOX Sports GO and NHL.TV (outside state of Florida)

Tickets: http://www.nhl.com/panthers/tickets

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