Panthers head coach Bob Boughner said he wants to see Montembeault go out on a high note.
"I'd love to see him play confident," Boughner said of his expectations for tonight. "He's a young guy and he's still figuring it out. I think he should be proud of himself for what he's done up until this point, coming in after being a pro for just a year and a half and getting thrown into the fire here in the NHL. He's responded. He's done really well. I'd like to see him finish that off tonight."
Roberto Luongo is expected to start Florida's season finale against New Jersey on Saturday.
With two games remaining on their schedule, the Panthers (36-32-12) have won each of their last three games, including consecutive victories over playoff-bound Washington and Boston. After another slow start, Florida has once again been playing its best hockey after the All-Star Break, boasting a 16-12-4 record, which is tied for the 11th-most points in the NHL in that span.
"Nothing has changed in the second half for us," Boughner said. "There's been games we've lost and some miserable spans of a couple games here and there, but every team goes through that. It's about where we're at since then. We've been a pretty solid team in the second half."
A big reason for the team's second-half surge has been the play of top-line forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Dating back to Feb. 17, the dynamic duo has combined for 30 goals and 48 assists, including a league-leading 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) from Barkov.
With a three-assist performance during Monday's 5-3 win over the Capitals, Barkov tied Pavel Bure's franchise record for the most points in a season (94). Jonathan Huberdeau, meanwhile, needs just one more point to give Florida its first-ever pair of 90-point players in the same year. Barkov (94) and Huberdeau (89) currently rank 10th and 14th, respectively, in NHL scoring.
"We're playing together, so when somebody gets a point, usually the other guy does, too," said Huberdeau, who has reached new career-highs in goals (28) and assists (61). "For Barky, it's great. It's a great milestone… Hopefully he can beat [Bure's record] in the next two games."
Huberdeau's 61 assists also currently stand as a single-season franchise record.
In addition to Barkov and Huberdeau, several other members of the Panthers are also currently building upon career-high point totals, including Mike Hoffman (69), Evgenii Dadonov (69), Keith Yandle (60) and Frank Vatrano (39). Hoffman also leads the team with a career-best 35 goals.
"We want to finish hard in front of our home fans," Boughner said. "We've played well in the last week and a half. We've got some guys with some career years and milestones on the line, and I'd like to see them hit that. But I think if you ask anyone in the dressing room, the guys that have been battling all year, they'd much rather be talking about a first-round playoff opponent."
Having already secured their place in the postseason, the Islanders (46-27-7) enter tonight's matchup with wins in four of their last six games. Led by the goaltending tandem of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, they've surrendered a league-low 2.38 goals per game this season.
Up front, New York's offense is fueled by a quartet of 50-point players in Mathew Barzal (62), Josh Bailey (55), Brock Nelson (52) and Anders Lee (51). Meanwhile, Jordan Eberle, who's posted 37 points, has been on fire as of late, lighting the lamp in each of his last three games.
"They've had amazing goaltending," Boughner said when asked about New York's success this season. "I think that you've got to give a lot of credit to [Islanders coach] Barry Trotz. Coming over from Washington, he's brought a lot with him."
Florida has won each of its last four matchups against the Islanders, going 2-0-0 this season.
- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in average ice time per game (23:38), while also pacing the club's defensemen and ranking tied for 10th among NHL blueliners in goals (13). The 23-year-old enters today's matchup with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) over his last 20 games.
- Mike Hoffman leads Florida with a career-high 35 goals. Of those scores, 17 have come on the power play, which is the tied for the fourth-most in the NHL this season. The 29-year old has posted a career-best 69 points, including 10 goals and 14 assists over his last 25 games.
- Evgenii Dadonov enters tonight's matchup having found his way onto the scoresheet in 11 of his last 14 games. The 30-year-old winger has racked up a career-high 69 points (28 goals, 41 assists) this season, including six goals and 14 assists over his last 20 contests.
- Florida's all-time leader for points by a defenseman in a single season, Keith Yandle ranks first among the team's blueliners in both points (60) and assists (51). Additionally, his 38 points on the power play also stand as a franchise record and rank third in the NHL this season. A native of Boston, he is just the 14th U.S.-born defenseman in NHL history to reach the 60-point mark.
- Vincent Trocheck has notched six points (three goals, three assists) over his last eight games.
- Troy Brouwer enters tonight's matchup with goals in each of his last three games. - Florida owns the second-ranked power play in the NHL, boasting a 26.9 percent success rate.
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME
Sam Montembeault (17-16-4, 3.30 GAA, .882 SV%) vs. Thomas Greiss (22-14-2, 2.31 GAA, .926 SV%)
Montembeault will return to Florida's net for the first time since a relief appearance in Montreal on March 26. After piecing together a four-game winning streak in March, the 22-year-old rookie owns an 0-3-0 record over his last five appearances. He has yet to face New York in his career.
Greiss is expected to be in between the pipes for the Islanders after backing up Robin Lehner in each of the last three games. The 33-year-old has lost three of his last four starts, owning a 1-3-0 record with a .900 save percentage in that span. In his career against Florida, he's gone 2-2-1 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Jayce Hawryluk
Frank Vatrano - Henrik Borgstrom - Colton Sceviour
Dryden Hunt - Riley Sheahan - Troy Brouwer
Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle - MacKenzie Weegar
Mark Pysyk - Josh Brown
Scratches: Denis Malgin, Jamie McGinn, Ian McCoshen, Brady Keeper, James Reimer
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder)
- March 18: The Panthers signed D Brady Keeper to a two-year, entry-level contract.
- $5 Beer Thursday
- Jerseys Off Our Backs Night
- 50% Off 25th Anniversary Merchandise in Pantherland
- Ford Florida Panthers Scarf Giveaway (First 5,000 Fans)
- Air and Sea Show Poster Giveaway (Upon Egress)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, April 4, 7:00 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
TV: Fox Sports Florida
Florida Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)