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Night to Remember: Panthers Host Canadiens, Honor Roberto Luongo

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers will be focusing on two numbers when they close out their five-game homestand against the Montreal Canadiens at BB&T Center on Saturday night.

The first of those numbers is one.

In honor of his contributions to both the franchise and the league as a whole, Roberto Luongo will become the first player in franchise history to have his number retired when the Panthers raise his No. 1 jersey into the rafters during a special pre-game ceremony prior to the matchup.

Doors to the arena open at 4 p.m., with the festivities set to begin an hour later at 5 p.m.

"It's a special night for Lu," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's a great reflection on a spectacular career in a lot of ways. He meant a lot to Florida. It's night for us to acknowledge his achievements and everything he's done for the league… It could be inspiring in a lot of ways."

Hanging up his skates this past summer after spending 19 unforgettable seasons in the NHL - including parts of 11 with the Panthers - Luongo ranks second in NHL history in games played by a goaltender (1,044), second in saves (28,409), third in wins (489) and ninth in shutouts (77).

Luongo also stands as Florida's all-time leader in both wins (230) and shutouts (38).

"It's going to be a big night for him and for us too," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said of Luongo's big honor. "Everybody learned so much from him, but at the same time he's a legend. He's a living legend, a future Hall of Famer. But when you're around him, it doesn't feel that way. He's just a happy, normal guy that really just loves playing hockey. He's forever young."

After the ceremony, the Panthers will then turn their attention to the next number at hand: two.

With 15 games left on their schedule, picking up two crucial points against the Canadiens would not only provide the Panthers with a boost, but also change the landscape of their playoff race.

As it stands now, Florida (33-26-8) trails Toronto (35-25-9) by five points for third place in the Atlantic Division with two games in hand and one head-to-head matchup remaining. So, in a way, they are currently in control of their own destiny, but know they need to make their move.

"We know the importance of the game," Quenneville said. "It's going to be as big as we've had all year. We're going to have to say that 15 more times. That's what we're looking forward to saying and getting involved in. I think yesterday was a game where we turned the corner a bit."

Coming off one of their best defensive games of the season, the Panthers certainly appeared to figure something out during Thursday's 2-1 overtime loss to Boston. Despite the outcome, they held the Bruins mostly in check, limiting them to seven shot attempts from high-danger areas.

Filling in for injured starter Sergei Bobrovsky, backup goaltender Chris Driedger, who had been out of action since suffering a lower-body injury in January, was outstanding in his return to the crease, making 26 saves against Boston's red-hot offense to help the Panthers pocket a point.

Expected to get the start once again versus Montreal tonight, Driedger, 25, has posted a 5-2-1 record with a 2.29 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and one shutout this season.

"Before his injury he was really solid," Quenneville said of Driedger. "He came in and stabilized a couple of big games for us, won some games for us in the net. Yesterday he did everything he was supposed to do in that type of setting.

"He was big, patient, square. He found pucks. He did what he had to do. I loved his patience in a big, important game against a top team. I thought he handled it very well. It's going to be an equally hard test tomorrow night as well."

The Canadiens (31-29-9) have won two of their last three games, but are coming off a 4-0 loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday. Held without a goal for the first time this season, Montreal outshot the Lightning 32-23, but simply couldn't touch any twine without either of their top-two scorers.

Tied for the team-lead with 22 goals apiece, forwards Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher are both dealing with ailments at the moment. Tatar isn't expected to suit up tonight in Sunrise due to a lower-body injury, while Gallagher's status remains up in the air as he deals with an illness.

In addition to his goals, Tatar also leads the Canadiens in assists (39) and points (61).

"We worked hard, we had chances, we had everything but we didn't have a family ... we couldn't score," Montreal coach Claude Julien told reporters after the loss. "I think the 4-0 kind of score doesn't tell the tale of the game except that they were a way more talented team tonight than we had as far as a lineup was concerned."

After starting 13 of the last 14 games, goaltender Carey Price is expected to get a rare night off against the Panthers. In his place, backup Charlie Lindgren will be called into action. Appearing in only five games this season, the 26-year-old has gone 2-3-0 behind a .884 save percentage.

The Panthers have split their season series with the Canadiens so far this season, winning 6-5 in Sunrise on Dec. 29 and losing 4-0 in Montreal on Feb. 1. Overall, Florida has won each of its last two games against Montreal on home ice, filling up the net for six goals in both contests.

"We're looking for a big game [tonight]," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "A divisional opponent, just another reason to be motivated to play. Obviously the emotion from [Luongo's] ceremony will be huge for us. We're excited. This time of year, there's no shortage of motivation to be playing well and playing hard."

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads Florida and ranks tied for 10th in the league with 77 points (22 goals, 55 assists). He also ranks fifth in the league in points on the power play with 29. Over his last 11 games, the 26-year-old winger has registered three goals and six assists.

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on the Panthers in scoring with 62 points (20 goals, 42 assists) -- his third straight seasons with at least 60 points. With two more goals, the 24-year-old center will move into a tie with Scott Mellanby for the second-most goals in team history (157).

-- Evgenii Dadonov ranks second on Florida in goals (25) and fourth in points (46).

-- Keith Yandle ranks first among Panthers defensemen with 45 points (five goals, 40 assists), marking the seventh straight season he's hit the 40-point plateau. The NHL's active "Iron Man," the 33-year-old is expected to suit up in his 865th consecutive regular-season game tonight.

-- Noel Acciari ranks tied for fourth on Florida with a career-high 20 goals. The 28-year-old also leads the team in hits (117) and sits first among the all of the league's forwards in blocks (99).

-- Aaron Ekblad ranks second among Panthers defensemen in scoring with 39 points, including a career-high 34 assists. With just one more point, he'll set a new career-high. Also leading the team in ice time per game (22:58), the 24-year-old has posted 18 points at home this season.

-- Mike Hoffman leads Florida in goals (27) and ranks fourth in points (56). Over his last nine games, the 30-year-old winger has recorded 10 point (six goals, four assists).

PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Frank Vatrano - Erik Haula - Mike Hoffman

Dominic Toninato - Lucas Wallmark - Brett Connolly

Colton Sceviour - Noel Acciari - Mark Pysyk

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Mike Matheson

Goalies

Chris Driedger

Sam Montembeault

Scratches: Aleksi Saarela, Josh Brown, Sergei Bobrovsky (lower-body)

Injured Reserve: Dryden Hunt (lower-body), Brian Boyle (upper-body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- March 3: G Chris Driedger was recalled from AHL Springfield.

- Feb. 26: G Chris Driedger was assigned to AHL Springfield on a conditioning loan.

- Feb. 24: D Emil Djuse was acquired from Dallas in exchange for a sixth-round pick.

- Feb. 24: F Erik Haula, F Lucas Wallmark, F Eetu Luostarinen and D Chase Priskie were acquired from Carolina in exchange for F Vincent Trocheck.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- Roberto Luongo Jersey Retirement Ceremony (Doors Open at 4 p.m., Ceremony Begins at 5 p.m.)

- 50/50 Raffle with Guaranteed Pot of at Least $50,000

- Baptist Health Takeover Night (Roberto Luongo Banner Giveaway and Luongo locker replica giveaway near Den of Honor)

- Territory Takeover (Hollywood / Dania Beach)

- Territory Memberships are on sale now!

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Saturday, March 7, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: FSF

Stream: FOX Sports Florida

Radio: 790 WAXY (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Tickets: HERE

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