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Panthers Look to Recapture Home-Ice Advantage in Home Opener

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

10/11/18 Morning Skate

10/11/18 Morning Skate

Interviews with Bob Boughner, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Mike Hoffman

  • 02:10 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers made BB&T Center one of the toughest barns for opposing teams to play in last season, winning a franchise-record 27 games in front of their home crowd, including eight straight victories at home to ignite their late-season playoff push.

When they return to Sunrise for their home opener on Thursday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets -- a team that edged them out of a wild card spot by just one point last season - the Panthers will look to recapture that magic as they attempt to pick up the first of what they hope will be many victories during a 2018-19 campaign highlighted by high expectations.

"I think, more than anything, we almost adopted a road-style at home," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said of his team's success at home last season. "We weren't overly fancy. We didn't get caught up in trying to be pretty. We tried to get pucks behind people, work off of forechecks and play that north-south game that I talk about all the time. The team that we're playing tonight is a lot of the same…. It's going to be a good matchup. It's going to be a tough game. It's good to have one of those for your home opener."

While many other teams around the league have already played in anywhere from three or four games at this point, Florida has been watching from the sidelines since opening the season with a 2-1 shootout loss in Tampa on Saturday. In that matchup, the Panthers fired off a game-high 43 shots on goal, but were simply unable to solve Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Still, if they play like that again, Florida's players are confident they'll be able to top Columbus.

"We spent a lot of time in their zone," said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov. "Our goalies were great, but of course their goalie was really good, too. We scored only one goal, but we had good energy and a good start. We just need to bring that same energy in this game."

Although the Panthers left Tampa with a point in the standings, they also lost starting goaltender Roberto Luongo, who will be out of action for the next two-to-four weeks after suffering a Grade 1 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee midway through the second period.

In Luongo's absence, backup goaltender James Reimer will take his place between the pipes against the Jackets and, presumably, for the majority of games for the next month or so as well. No stranger to the starting role, Reimer went 22-14-6 with a .913 save percentage in 2017-18.

"He's rose to the occasion many times in this situation," Boughner said of Reimer, who started 17 of 18 games last season after Luongo went down with a groin injury. "It's nothing different."

The Blue Jackets (2-1-0) are also dealing with some early-season injuries, as forward Brandon Dubinsky and defenseman Seth Jones are both expected to be sidelined for multiple weeks. In their first game without both stars, however, they rallied to defeated Colorado, 5-2, on Tuesday.

Against the Avalanche, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 25 saves to pick up the victory, but will head to the bench against the Panthers in favor of backup Joonas Korpisalo, who stopped 18 of 20 shots to help lead the Jackets to a shootout victory in their season opener on Oct. 4.

John Tortorella, who is entering his fourth season behind the bench in Columbus, told reporters after Thursday's morning skate at BB&T Center that he hasn't watched too much film on Florida this season, but knows what to expect after last year's neck-and-neck battle for a playoff spot.

"I think Bobby [Boughner] has done a terrific job here, and his staff, with how they played down that stretch," Tortorella said. "We were with them. We'd win a game and say, 'We've got enough room now.' But they just kept coming and coming. I think they got a lot of confidence out of that run. Although it wasn't successful, I think it built some confidence with some really good players here. We know it's a good team, but we're going to concentrate on ourselves and our game."

With that race still fresh in their minds, the Panthers certainly know how crucial every point is.

"We sense that every single point is important," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "We were stressing that in the Tampa Bay game the other day. I think that lesson's been learned. We're ready to take advantage of every point that's available for us."

GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME

James Reimer (0-0-1, 1.85 GAA, .938 SV%) vs. Joonas Korpisalo (1-0-0, 1.93 GAA, .900 SV%)

Reimer, 30, is coming off a strong showing in relief of Luongo in Saturday's season opener. In that game, he stopped 15 of 16 shots after not seeing any competitive action since a preseason start on Sept. 25. Now in his ninth NHL season, Reimer is 2-6-1 for his career against Columbus.

Korpisalo, 24, won the only start he's made this season, going fairly untested while making 18 saves to lead the Jackets to their first win of the season over Detroit on Oct. 4. Now in his fourth NHL season, the Finnish netminder is 1-1-0 with a .889 save percentage in two career starts against Florida.

NOTES

-- The Panthers own a 7-1-0 record over their last eight home openers, outscoring opponents by a combined score of 34-17 in those contests.

-- Juho Lammikko will make his NHL debut for the Panthers. A third-round pick (65th overall) in 2014, the Finnish forward saw career highs in goals (8) and points (28) with AHL Springfield last season. On Thursday, the 22-year-old will center the fourth line and see time on the penalty kill.

-- The Panthers will honor their inaugural 1993-94 team with a pre-game ceremony featuring select players and staff. These former fan favorites include: Len Barrie, Jesse Belanger, Brian Benning, Mike Foligno, Greg Hawgood, Mike Hough, Jamie Leach, Patrick Lebeau, Bill Lindsay, Rob Niedermayer, Brent Severyn, Brian Skrudland and John Vanbiesbrouck.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad

Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Mike Hoffman

Frank Vatrano - Jared McCann - Denis Malgin

Troy Brouwer - Juho Lammikko - Colton Sceviour

Defense

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk

Jacob MacDonald - Alexander Petrovic

Goalies

James Reimer

Michael Hutchinson

Scratches: MacKenzie Weegar, Maxim Mamin, Derek MacKenzie

Injured Reserve: Bogdan Kiselevich (broken jaw)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Oct. 9: F Juho Lammikko was recalled from Springfield (AHL).

- Oct. 8: G Michael Hutchinson was recalled from Springfield (AHL).

- Oct. 2: F Henrik Borgstrom, F Dryden Hunt, F Juho Lammikko, D Ian McCoshen were loaned to Springfield (AHL).

IN-ARENA SPECIALS

- The first 10,000 fans tonight will receive a magnet schedule, presented by FOX Sports Florida.

- The new Florida Panthers 25th Anniversary CATS Magazine will be available for purchase at Pantherland beginning tonight.

- The new "Gloves Off IPA" will be available at the Funky Buddha Tap Room, located across from Pantherland.

HOW TO WATCH

When: Thursday, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL 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 Florida App 

Bite of BB&T Center: Cheese Pizza for $11 in Section 108, 115, 129, 307, 328

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