"We've got to find ways to win at this time of the year," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "Going into the last game, we were six out of 10. We were hoping to win that game and be seven out of 10. That would have been a pretty good run.
"It's time for a response now. We've lost two in a row. We obviously don't want to go do down that road. Tonight's a big response game for us. We want to get back in the win column and keep pushing and see what happens."
The Panthers long road back onto the cusp of the postseason picture hasn't been an easy one, as the team has faced a bevy of tough teams along the way. When the Calgary Flames visit BB&T Center on Thursday night, it'll mark Florida's 12th straight game against a current playoff team.
"It's been tough, for sure," said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who's notched two goals and five assists over the last eight games. "It's gut-check time. It's time for us to step up and prove that we can be a playoff team and beat teams like this consistently."
When asked what area of the game the Panthers need to improve upon the most in order to start picking up points in bunches, Ekblad pointed the team's play at 5-on-5, where they rank 25th in goals score per 60 minutes (2.2) and third in goals-allowed per 60 minutes (2.93).
On special teams, Florida owns the NHL's third-ranked power play and 13th-ranked penalty kill.
"We want to improve up and down our lineup," Ekblad said. "All season long our power play's been pretty good. Other than a brief stint at the beginning of the season, our penalty kill has been very good. "We want to improve on our 5-on-5 ability to score goals and keep goals out of our net. That's obviously the biggest deficiency in our game. If we can find a way to do that consistently on a nightly basis, we'll be a playoff team."
After missing the last four games with a lower-body injury, rookie Jayce Hawryluk will make his return to Florida's lineup against the Flames. The 23-year-old forward has registered three goals and two assists in 19 games since earning his first call-up from AHL Springfield on Dec. 15.
"Very excited," Hawryluk said. "It's been a long week. I'm looking forward to getting back to playing… It's part of the game. Injuries happen all the time. You've just got to focus on trying to get better when it happens. The training staff did a good job. I'm feeling ready to go."
The Flames (34-16-6) enter tonight's matchup looking to shake out of a three-game skid - their longest such streak since dropping three in a row Dec. 18 to Dec. 22 -- that was extended with a 6-3 loss in Tampa on Tuesday. During their 0-2-1 stretch, they've allowed a total of 14 goals.
Boughner, however, said he doesn't expect anyone to sleep on the Flames despite their slump.
"Calgary's had an amazing year so far," Boughner said. "You're on the road and points are so important at this time of year. Everybody's up for Calgary. Nobody's taking them lightly and everybody knows they've got to be at their best."
On Jan. 11, the Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but lost 4-3 to the Flames in Calgary.
"I think there was some good things we did in that game, to be honest with you," Boughner said. "That was a pretty good road game for us. We've got to do some similar things."
A 2019 NHL All-Star, Johnny Gaudreau leads the Flames in goals (tied-29) and points (77).
"Johnny's not the biggest guy in the world," said Ekblad, referring to Gaudreau's 5-foot-9, 165-pound frame. "He's like a waterbug out there. He flies around. It's really tough to check him sometimes. When we get him in the corner, obviously we want to get him against the glass and try to separate him from the puck as much as possible and limit his time and space."
Prior to puck drop against the Flames, the Panthers will hold a moment of silence to honor the 17 victims of the tragic mass shooting that took place exactly one year ago at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. On Sunday, the team will also be holding another memorial prior to hosting the Montreal Canadiens, including hosting many victim's families.
"It hits home as much as it hits here at the arena," Boughner said. "Everybody in this community was affected by it. But when you're at home, your family life is affected by it as well. It is an emotional time and I think that our guys went through that last year with the rest of the people in this community. Obviously there's a little more on the line in this game. It's not just about a hockey game. We want to come out, have a good performance against a good team and just make the day sort of complete."
-- Aleksander Barkov leads the Panthers in scoring with 53 points, including four goals and 10 assists over his last 15 games. The 23-year-old center also ranks third in the NHL in takeaways (74), while his 22:50 of average ice time per game paces all forwards.
-- In the midst of his fourth career 50-point season, Jonathan Huberdeau ranks second on the Panthers in scoring with 52 points, including a team- leading 39 assists. The 25-year-old winger needs just four more to pass the career-high 42 he posted during the 2017-18 campaign.
-- Frank Vatrano leads Florida in goals (8), points (13) and shots on goal (44) over the last 15 games. The 24-year-old winger also paces the club with 18 even-strength goals this season, while having already reached new career-bests in both goals (19) and points (30).
-- Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers in goals (25), power-play goals (11), game-winning goals (5) and shots on goal (177). The 29-year-old needs just five more goal to surpass his previous career-high (29, 2015-16) and achieve the first 30-goal campaign of his career.
-- Since being acquired in a multi-player trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins last week, forwards Derick Brassard (one goal, two assists) and Riley Sheahan (three assists) have combined for six points through their first six games with the Panthers.
-- Keith Yandle leads all Panthers defensemen in points (42) and assists (34), while his 27 power-play points on the season place him tied fourth in the NHL and first among all blueliners.
-- Mike Matheson leads Florida with 81 blocked shots and has posted three points (one goal, two assists) over his last four games.
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME
James Reimer (10-10-5, 3.10 GAA, .898 SV%) vs. Mike Smith (14-11-1, 3.11 GAA, .889 SV%)
The Panthers will roll with Riemer against the Flames. The 30-year-old backup owns a 5-3-2 record with a .916 save percentage over his last 11 appearances, allowing more than three goals in a game just twice during that span. In his career against Calgary, he has gone 1-3-0 with a 3.81 goals-against average and a .864 save percentage.
After serving as a backup in each of the last two games, Smith will return to the net against the Panthers. The 36-year-old owns a 9-4-0 record over his last 14 appearances, but has gone 3-4-0 with a .889 save percentage in his last seven starts. In his career against Florida, he's posted an 8-6-3 record with a 2.65 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Frank Vatrano
Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Evgenii Dadonov
Henrik Borgstrom - Derick Brassard - Denis Malgin
Jayce Hawryluk - Riley Sheahan - Troy Brouwer
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
Ian McCoshen - Josh Brown
Scratches: Micheal Haley, Bogdan Kiselevich, Jamie McGinn
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Colton Sceviour (upper body), MacKenzie Weegar (upper body)
- Feb. 10: F Jamie McGinn was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
- Feb. 8: D Bogdan Kiselevich was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
- Feb. 1: F Jamie McGinn was loaned to Springfield (AHL)
- 50/50 Raffle with a portion of the proceeds benefiting MSD families (buy digital tickets here)
- $5 Beer Thursday
- Hoffman's Chocolates Takeover Night
BITE OF BB&T CENTER
Brunch Burger with Tots for $16 at the "Smells Like Brunch" stand outside section 105
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, Feb. 14, 7:00 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
TV: Fox Sports Florida (Alternate Channels Below)
Dish HD: 9515
Dish Hopper: 412-33
DTV HD: 654-1
AT&T HD: 1721
Florida Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)