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Panthers Hope to Stifle McDavid in St. Patrick's Day Showdown with Oilers

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers will look to gain some ground in the playoff race when they close out a five-game homestand with a St. Patrick's Day showdown against the Edmonton Oilers at BB&T Center on Saturday afternoon.

The Panthers (35-26-7) have won nine of their last 10 games at home and 16 of 21 overall since returning from the All-Star break. With 14 games remaining in their season, they trail Columbus by four points for the first wild card spot and New Jersey by three points for the second wild card spot into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

Florida has two games in hand on the Devils and three on Columbus, who both play Saturday.

"The reason we're in a playoff race is because of what we've done at home," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "You want to be greedy and you want to win that Ottawa game, too, but if you stand back and look at our home record in the last while, you have to be happy about it."

The Panthers are coming off a 3-0 win over Boston on Thursday in which backup James Reimer stopped all 46 shots he faced to earn his third shutout of the season. The starting role, however, still belongs to Roberto Luongo, who is 7-1-1 with a 2.73 goals-against average and .921 save percentage and one shutout over his last nine starts.

Luongo, 38, is expected to get the nod in net against the Oilers.

"We want to make sure Louie is in charge of how he feels," Boughner said after Friday's practice. "Today, we'll assess when both those guys get off the ice. Reims going in like that was great for our team. For him being off as long as he has, just shows you what a true pro he is to be prepared and ready."

In their first meeting of the season, Vincent Trocheck recorded the first NHL hat trick of his career to lead Florida to a 7-5 win over the Oilers in Edmonton on Feb. 12. In that game, Trocheck was also tasked with shutting down Connor McDavid. At 5-on-5, Edmonton's superstar center was held off the scoresheet in 10:46 of head-to-head play with Trocheck.

Now having the benefit of last change at home, Boughner said he'll deploy potential Selke Trophy finalist Aleksander Barkov against McDavid. The NHL's leader in average ice time among forwards (22:16), Barkov is not only an elite defensive forward, but also Florida's top offensive weapon, leading the team with a career-high 70 points this season.

"Barky will be the guy that McDavid sees most of the night," Boughner said. "Trocheck did a real good job in Edmonton against him. But against that guy, it's not just one guy shutting him down. Your whole line has to be responsible and your defense has to be a part of it as well."

A visit to Sunrise will be the first stop on a four-game road trip for the Oilers, who have lost their last two games and five of eight overall. At 30-35-5, Edmonton is no longer a major factor in the Western Conference playoff race, but still possess maybe the league's top talent in McDavid.

Last season's Hart Trophy winner, the 21-year-old leads the Oilers with 86 points - 25 more than the next highest player on the team. He places fourth in the NHL in points, while also ranking 10th in goals (33) and ninth in assists (53).

For the Panthers, the game plan for Saturday's matinee starts and ends with McDavid.

"That's the key," Boughner said. "He's one of the best players in the league and he's a huge part of their offense. We've got to be on top of him in all three zones. Even in the offensive zone, once that puck turns over he's gone. We've got to make sure we're on top of him."

NOTES

- Since Feb. 5, Florida's power play ranks second in the NHL, converting 17-of-54 (31.5 percent) of its opportunities with the man advantage. Vincent Trocheck leads the Panthers with a career-high 13 power-play goals and 23 power-play points.

- Aleksander Barkov has recorded 16 points (5-11-16) over his last 11 games. With 70 points, the 22-year-old center is tied with Scott Mellanby (70, 1995-96) and Viktor Kozlov (70, 1999-00) for seventh in single-season points in franchise history.

- Evgenii Dadonov has registered 17 (7-10-17) points and team-leading seven goals over his last 11 games. Over that 11-game span, he has also registered seven multi-point games. Since the All-Star break, the 29-year-old winger has posted 25 points (12-13-25) in 21 games.

- Aaron Ekblad has recorded six points (2-4-6) over his last nine games. His 14 goals on the season rank him tied for third in the NHL among all defensemen, needing just one more to tie the career-high 15 he notched in 2015-16. The 22-year-old leads Florida's defensemen in goals (14), power-play goals (4) and shots (167), while also leading the team in even-strength ice time (1295:23).

PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

Forwards

Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad

Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Frank Vatrano

Jamie McGinn - Jared McCann - Denis Malgin

Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour

Defense

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk

MacKenzie Weegar - Ian McCoshen

Goalies

Roberto Luongo

James Reimer

Scratches: Alexander Petrovic, Connor Brickley, Maxim Mamin, Radim Vrbata

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- March 10: F Frank Vatrano activated from IR

- Feb. 14: G Roberto Luongo activated from IR

- Feb. 14: G Harri Sateri loaned to Springfield (AHL)

HOW TO WATCH

When: Saturday, March 17, 2 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: https://www.nhl.com/panthers/tickets

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