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Panthers Go for 6th Straight Win in Quenneville's Return to Chicago

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

CHICAGO - Joel Quenneville cracks a smile when asked about his return to Chicago.

"It's an important game for both teams," he said. "It'll be fun to be back there, for sure."

There was certainly no shortage of fun times during Quenneville's tenure behind the bench for the Blackhawks, as the NHL.com's recently crowned "Coach of the Decade" led the team to a trio of Stanley Cups (2010, 2013, 2015) and nine playoff appearances over parts of 10 seasons.

Among other things, it's also where "Q" replaced "A" as the ultimate letter to recognize a job well done, and where a silver mustache somehow turned into one of hockey's most-iconic symbols.

"All great memories," Quenneville said. "They were special years there. All of the people you got to get acquainted with -- the staff, management, players, training staff, everybody -- you had some great memories with them and some great times. The fans were always special as well."

Hired by the Panthers in April, Quenneville is already starting to help create a similar culture of success in South Florida. Entering Tuesday's tilt at the United Center, the Panthers (27-16-5) have won each of their last five games and currently occupy third place in the Atlantic Division.

With one game left until breaking for All-Star Weekend, the team is aiming to fortify that position.

"One game before the break," forward Noel Acciari said. "We've got to end it on a high note."

Less than 24 hours ago, it was a tipped-in goal from Acciari that helped the Panthers complete an unforgettable comeback in Minnesota. Trailing the Wild 4-3 very late in third period, Vincent Trocheck made it 4-4 before Acciari re-directed in the winner with 5.6 seconds left on the clock.

Entering the matchup, the Panthers had never won a regulation game at Xcel Energy Center.

"It was a special win for the way we fought, the way we battle back with that little time left," said Trocheck, who has seven points (two goals, five assists) over his last seven games. "I've never won in this building before. It's always a little bit of a mental grind. We battled hard. Huge win."

Always in the right spot at the right time, Acciari has tallied 13 goals over his last 16 games, pushing his total on the season to a career-high 18. The 28-year-old also leads Florida and ranks first among the league's forwards in blocks (74), including three against Minnesota.

Of his 18 goals, a team-high five have come off tips, which also ranks second in the league.

"He's scored some big goals for us, and that might have been as big as we've had," Quenneville said. "That was very good timing for him and for us. He does have an amazing knack around the net."

Averaging the most goals per game in the league (3.67), the Panthers have registered 26 goals during their five-game win streak, scoring no fewer than four in each of those outings. Led by a very balanced attack up front, those 26 goals have been split up between 13 different players.

Evgenii Dadonov leads the team in goals (22) and power-play goals (10). Entering tonight's tilt on a five-game point streak, he's notched four goals and one assist in that span. Additionally, in his last 14 games, the 30-year-old winger has been on quite the tear, lighting the lamp 10 times.

"You're very pleased with his compete," Quenneville said of Dadonov. "He finds timely goals."

Like the Panthers, the Blackhawks (24-20-6) are also riding a five-game winning streak.

During their 5-2 win over Winnipeg on Sunday, Patrick Kane registered his 1,000th career NHL point, becoming just the 90th player in the history of the league to do so. Heading to his ninth All-Star Game, the 31-year-old forward leads Chicago in goals (24), assists (38) and points (62).

On a 10-game point streak, Kane has tallied 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in that stretch.

"He's like an icon in Chicago, whether it's him winning three Stanley Cups, coming in and helping us become better players," Kane told the Herald&Review when asked about Quenneville, who coached him nearly his entire career. "What he's done here in his career is amazing, he'll get a warm reception and it'll be good to see him."

While a very warm reception is expected for both Quenneville as well as assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who followed Quenneville to Florida after working with him for six seasons in Chicago, the Panthers are hoping that the home crowd will be fairly silent when the final buzzer sounds.

For although it will certainly be an emotional game, there's still a big two points up for grabs.

"A big one for us, with Q and Kitch going back, and with all their history there," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle. "I think it's a good thing for us that we're playing back-to-back. We can just get in and go to work as hard as we can."

PANTHERS NOTES

-- A 2020 NHL All-Star, Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in assists (46), points (64), power-play points (23) and multi-point games (19), while also ranking second in goals (18). Since Dec. 16, the 26-year-old winger paces the entire league in assists (20) and points (27).

-- Aleksander Barkov is also carrying a five-game point streak (three goals, five assists) into Chicago. The 24-year-old center ranks second on Florida in both assists (37) and points (53), and with just one more goal he will tie Pavel Bure (152) for the third-most in franchise history.

-- Coming off a four-point game (one goal, three assists) in Minnesota, Keith Yandle ranks tied for second among the league's defensemen in assists (34) and is also tied for first in power-play points (20). Among Florida's blueliners, the 33-year-old resides in first in assists and points (39).

-- Mike Hoffman enters tonight's matchup looking to extend his season-high, nine-game point streak (five goals, six assists). The 30-year-old winger ranks tied for second on the Panthers in goals (18) and power-play goals (7), while also pacing the team in shots on goal with 131.

-- Frank Vatrano has notched six points (two goals, four assists) during his current four-game point streak. Racking up 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) this season, Florida owns a 16-1-2 record when he registers at least one point.

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in ice time per game this season (22:54). The 23-year-old also ranks second among the team's defensemen in goals (T-5), assists (22) and points (27).

-- Mark Pysyk has recorded six points (two goals, four assists) over his last eight games.

-- Florida is 22-2-2 when scoring first this season.

PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari

Frank Vatrano - Dominic Toninato - Mike Hoffman

Colton Sceviour - Brian Boyle - Mark Pysyk

Defensemen

Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad

Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Sam Montembeault

Scratches: Jayce Hawryluk, Denis Malgin, Chris Driedger (lower-body)

Injured Reserve: MacKenzie Weegar (upper-body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Jan. 15: G Sam Montembeault was recalled from AHL Springfield on emergency conditions.

- Jan. 13: G Sam Montembeault was loaned to AHL Springfield.

- Jan. 12: G Sam Montembeault was recalled from AHL Springfield on emergency conditions.

- Dec. 27: D Riley Stillman was recalled from AHL Springfield.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Tuesday, Jan. 21, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: United Center - Chicago, IL

TV: FSF

Stream: FOX Sports GO

Panthers Radio Network: 790 WAXY (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM Streaming 932

Territory on Tap Locations: HERE

Official Watch Party: Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park

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