"It was a long 10 or 11 days for us," said Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie, a Parkland resident. "We would have loved to have gotten back and hugged some people before we did, but we're back today."
In addition to sporting "MSD" right-elbow patches and helmet decals of Stoneman Douglas' logo for the remainder of the season, the Panthers will also wear Stoneman Douglas hats during warmups. Capitals players are also expected to wear the hats pre-game.
A tribute video and moment of silence are also expected before puck drop.
"It's going to be an emotional night," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "I know a lot of our guys, everybody seems to know somebody that's been affected by the tragedy. Just being a pillar of the community and sense of pride for the community, we have a role to play in this. Hopefully we can get through this, honor it appropriately and never forget what happened."
The Panthers (26-25-6) is coming off a 3-2-0 road trip through Canada, which ended with a 1-0 loss in Toronto on Tuesday - just the second time they've been shut out this season. Florida has won seven of its last 10 games, but enters a season-long six-game homestand on the heels of back-to-back losses.
The Panthers, who sit seven points out of a playoff spot, will play 11 of their next 12 games at home.
"We know that we've got to win a majority of these games and get points," Boughner said. "We like how we've played lately, even though we've lost the last two. There were a lot of good things out of that Toronto game. This is it. We can make our own destiny here.
"If we can two points tonight, we're five out [of the playoffs] with two in hand. We've got a bunch of home games coming up. We've got a tough week again. It doesn't get any easier. Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto - tough games. We've got to find a way to get some points in these games."
A key factor behind the Panthers' recent resurgence has been their performance on the power play. They have scored at least one power play goal in six of their last seven games and are operating at the best rate in the NHL since Feb. 1, going 12-for-34 with the man advantage over the last nine games.
"I think that, for the most part, we've just been keeping it a little more simple than we were earlier in the year," said Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson, who has six points (2-4-6) in his last six games. "That's a good way to get more opportunities on a power play.
"It's not looking for a seam pass, it's not looking for a back-door tap in. It's just getting the puck back up to the point, move it either way and then everyone's attacking downhill towards the net, and the puck has to go there."
Roberto Luongo will make his second consecutive start for the Panthers. The 38-year-old goaltender has looked outstanding in two starts since returning from a groin injury that sidelined him for more than two months, stopping 60 of 64 shots (.938).
The Panthers and Capitals have split their two meetings this season, with Florida winning 4-1 on Oct. 21 and Washington coming from behind twice to win their latest matchup, 4-2, on Jan. 25 at BB&T Center.
The Capitals (34-19-7) have lost four of their last six games.
"At this point in the season, every game that we play is make or break," Matheson said. "We can't afford to have any nights where things don't go well, or we take a night off or things like that. We're fighting to get into the playoffs. We really can't afford to give any points away."
- The Panthers are expected to ice the same top-six forwards for the 12th straight game on Thursday night. In the previous 11 games, Florida's top six has combined for 22 goals and 29 assists, with Aleksander Barkov recording a team-high 11 points during that span and three different skaters scoring at least five goals.
- The Panthers have scored 19 goals over their last four games, with Evgenii Dadonov and Vincent Trocheck each scoring a team-leading four goals.
- Aaron Ekblad leads Florida's defensemen in goals (12), power-play goals (4) and shots (149), while also leading the team in even-strength ice time (1063:34). Ekblad enters Thursday's game with points in six of his last seven contests (3-5-8).
- Jonathan Huberdeau has recorded 21 points (9-12-21) over his last 22 games. The 24-year old winger leads the Panthers in assists (35), primary assists (23) and even-strength goals (14), while ranking second on the team in multi-point games (13).
Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Denis Malgin
Maxim Mamin - Jared McCann - Colton Sceviour
Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Connor Brickley
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
Ian McCoshen - Alex Petrovic
Scratches: MacKenzie Weegar, Jamie McGinn, Radim Vrbata
- Feb. 14: G Roberto Luongo activated from IR
- Feb. 14: G Harri Sateri loaned to Springfield (AHL)
- Feb. 7: G James Reimer activated from IR
- Feb. 7: G Samuel Montembeault loaned to Springfield (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, Feb. 22, 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)