"It's been a long time since we've been here," Panthers forward Dominic Toninato said. "There's two huge points on the line tonight. Hopefully we can come out flying and have a good game for the home crowd… It's the fun time of the year right now when every point is so important."
After wrapping up their three-game road trip with a 1-0 overtime loss in Columbus on Tuesday, the Panthers currently occupy third place in the Atlantic Division with a 29-17-6 record. Starting to hit their stride as the second half heats up, they've gone a stellar 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
Dating back to Dec. 16, Florida has won 14 of its last 20 games overall.
"A decent road trip, three of six points," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. "There's not a lot of games left [in the season], so we've definitely got to come out there and start winning a lot of games, putting a few [wins] together and make sure we're making a push for the playoffs."
Returning to Sunrise for the first time since a 4-3 win over Los Angeles on Jan. 16, the Panthers have been one of the best teams in the league on home ice this season. In addition to their 16-8-2 record within their friendly confines, they also rank first in the league in home goals (103).
Entering tonight's matchup on a three-game winning streak at home, they've gone 7-1-0 over their last eight home contests overall. In that span, they've outscored the opposition 43-28.
"I don't know if it's much different home or away," Trocheck said. "I think it's just playing a simple game and making sure that we're playing to our system and knowing the opponent. Obviously we've got a good one tonight, so we've just got to make sure we bring it."
Taking the ice during this morning's skate for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury on Feb. 1, Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, who ranks second on the team with 54 points (16 goals, 38 assists), is close to returning to the lineup, but will miss his third straight game tonight.
"He's out tonight, but doing way better," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "He feels better today. Maybe there's a shot for Saturday night [against Pittsburgh] … We were looking forward to him getting on the ice today to get a better feel or read where he's going to be at and how long it's going to take. It was a positive turn today, and I think he felt better than he anticipated."
After stopping 44 of 45 shots against the Blue Jackets, Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to slide back into the crease for the Panthers tonight. Really taking off over his last seven starts, the 31-year-old goaltender has gone 5-1-1 in that span behind an outstanding .926 save percentage.
At home, Bobrovsky owns a 12-5-2 record with a .914 save percentage and one shutout.
"He's coming up big for us," Quenneville said of Bobrovsky. "We're going to rely on him here a lot. He's coming off arguably as good a game as he's had all year long. He gave us a chance to get a point, which was a huge one as well. He's played well here at home."
Making their lone trip of the season to Florida, the Knights have won two of their last three games, but enter Sunrise on the heels of a 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Tuesday. After tying the game 2-2 early in the third period on a goal from Paul Stastny -- his fifth in his last 10 games -- Vegas went on to surrender a pair of unanswered goals to fall to 3-6-1 over its last 10 contests.
Owning 27-21-7 record, the Knights currently occupy third place in the Pacific Division.
"You come in here and you've got to do everything right,'' Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer told reporters after the loss to the Lightning. "You've got to win the special teams, you've got to be opportunistic, you've got to work hard and try to limit them. We did a lot of those things, but there's a reason their record is what it is. They don't need a lot of looks to stick pucks in the net."
Up front, Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone lead Vegas in scoring with 48 points apiece, while Pacioretty is also tied with Reilly Smith for the team-lead in goals with 21. Over his last 15 games, Pacioretty has recorded 11 points (five goals, six assists).
In net, the Knights will likely turn to Marc-Andre Fleury, who has gotten the nod in seven of the last eight games. Over his last eight starts, the 35-year-gold goaltender has registered a 2-5-1 record with a .892 save percentage and one shutout. In his career against Florida, he's 16-9-2.
The Panthers have won each of their last two home games against Vegas.
"They're a fast team," Trocheck said. "They play smart and work really hard. Tonight, we're going to have to make sure that we're making the short passes, simple plays. They're going to get on the forecheck hard, so we've got to make sure our breakouts are good. If we can sustain pressure in the O-zone, it will obviously help us out."
-- Mark Pysyk registered his first-career hat trick on Monday in Toronto. It was the fifth hat trick by a Panthers player this season, which is the most among NHL teams this season. Pysyk, who has already set a new career-high with seven goals, has nine points over his last 12 games.
-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads Florida and ranks tied for seventh in the league with 66 points (19 goals, 47 assists). The 26-year-old winger also sits third in the league in power-play assists (21) and tied for fourth in power-play points (25). Of those 25 points, 15 have come on home ice.
-- Evgenii Dadonov leads Florida with 23 goals, including 11 over his last 18 games. The 30-year-old winger also paces the team and is tied for fifth in the league with 10 power-play goals.
-- Keith Yandle ranks first among Florida's defensemen with 39 points (five goals, 34 assists). The 33-year-old is also tied for third among the league's blueliners in power-play points (20). He enters tonight's matchup needing just one more goal to reach 100 in his NHL career.
-- Mike Hoffman has tallied at least one point in 11 of his last 13 games, racking up six goals and nine assists in that span. The 30-year-old winger ranks tied for second on the Panthers in goals (19) and power-play goals (7), while also accumulating the third-most points (42).
-- Noel Acciari as registered 13 goals over his last 2- games. In his first season with Florida, the 28-year-old winger has already set new career-highs in goals (18) and points (21). In addition to his offensive numbers, he also ranks first among the league's forwards in blocked shots (80).
-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in ice time per game (22:51). The 23-year-old also ranks sixth among the league's defensemen in even-strength points (24). Over his last nine games, he's recorded six assists, with five of them coming at even-strength and one on the power play.
-- Frank Vatrano has recorded nine points (five goals, four assists) over his past eight games.
-- Mike Matheson has posted four assists over his past four games.
-- Riley Stillman is tied for fourth-most blocked shots in the league since Jan. 16 with 18.
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari
Brett Connolly - Denis Malgin - Evgenii Dadonov
Frank Vatrano - Dominic Toninato - Mike Hoffman
Jayce Hawryluk - Colton Sceviour - Mark Pysyk
Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad
Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle - MacKenzie Weegar
Scratches: Brian Boyle, Josh Brown, Aleksander Barkov (lower-body)
Injured Reserve: Chris Driedger (lower-body)
- Jan. 30: G Sam Montembeault and D Riley Stillman were recalled from AHL Springfield.
- Jan. 22: G Sam Montembeault and D Riley Stillman were loaned to AHL Springfield.
- 50/50 Raffle
- $5 Beer Thursday
- Bang Energy Takeover Night (hat giveaway for the first 4,000 fans)
HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN
When: Thursday Feb. 6, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
TV: FSF (Alternate Channels Below)
AT&T HD: 1721
Stream: FOX Sports GO
Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM Streaming 932