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Panthers Playing for History, Fans in 2018-19 Finale vs. Devils

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

4/6/19 Morning Skate

4/6/19 Morning Skate

Interviews with Bob Boughner, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar

  • 01:30 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are going to leave it all out on the ice.

With the playoffs out of a reach and a long summer ahead, the Panthers will be playing for pride, history and, most importantly, the fans when they close out their 2018-19 campaign with a bittersweet matchup against the New Jersey Devils at BB&T Center on Saturday night.

"Everyone in here's upset and disappointed that we're not going to be in a playoff run here," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. "But we've got to finish strong and come into tonight like it's any other game. We want to play hard and finish the season on a strong note.

"We want to win and we want to be a good team. It's just a few mistakes that we've made throughout the year. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster. Streaks, both ways, good and bad. It's just a matter of finding that consistency and staying even keeled the whole season."

Even without the prospect of the postseason dangling in front of them, the Panthers certainly aren't lacking in motivation for tonight's game. From individual milestones to franchise records, a multitude of players will be looking to cap off several career-best campaigns in Game 82.

Led by captain Aleksander Barkov's 94 points - which places him in a tie with Pavel Bure for the franchise's single-season points record - many other forwards are also building on career-high point totals, including Jonathan Huberdeau (90), Mike Hoffman (69) and Evgenii Dadonov (69).

A potential finalist for both the Selke Trophy and Lady Byng, Barkov has clearly made the jump from star to superstar, setting new career-highs in both goals (34) and assists (60).

Barkov also ranks second in the NHL in takeaways (100), while only committing four penalties.

With one game left, Huberdeau said the team is pushing for Barkov to overtake Bure's record.

"I told him that we've got to do it early, just get it out of the way," said Huberdeau, who has already set a new franchise record for assists in a season (61). "Last game he didn't get a point, but I feel we've got to get him a point and beat Bure. It would be great for him. I think he worked really hard and it would be a great accomplishment for himself."

In net, Roberto Luongo, who currently stands at third all-time in career wins by a goaltender in NHL history (489), will be attempting to end his 19th NHL season on a four-game winning streak.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner said the decision to start Luongo was an easy one.

"His play speaks for itself in the last couple weeks," Boughner said. "This isn't something symbolic or something that we're trying to do for the end of his career. This is just Lou playing good hockey and deserving to be in the net. I'm sure the fans are going to appreciate that."

The Panthers (36-32-13) enter tonight's finale with wins in three of their last four games after their three-game winning streak was snapped with a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday. In a bit of interesting trivia, Florida has won each of its last four regular-season finales.

As part of "Fan Appreciation Night," tonight's game will also serve to honor the home crowd. "We want to show them that we care about them and we appreciate their support," said Trocheck, who's tallied six points over his last nine games.

"We want to come out tonight and do it for them as basically a way of saying thank you for sticking with us through thick and thin."

Sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division, the Devils (30-41-10) have lost three of their last four games, including a 3-1 defeat in Carolina on Thursday. New Jersey currently leads the season series 1-0-1, with the Panthers picking up a 4-3 win in overtime in their last meeting on Nov. 26.

Kyle Palmieri paces the team in both goals (27) and points (50), but has been out of the lineup with a lower-body injury since March 30. Behind Palmieri on the scoring list, Nico Hischier (46) and Travis Zajac (45) are the only other two Devils to eclipse the 40-point plateau this season.

Still, tonight's game appears less about the battling the opposition and more about the Panthers proving something to themselves as they prepare to come back strong and contend in 2019-20.

"It's tough to know that it's your last game of the season, but we're going to work hard," Huberdeau said. "We love this game. It's a passion. We love playing this game. You don't play for five months after this, so you've got to give it all tonight."

NOTES

- Florida's all-time leader for points by a defenseman in a single season, Keith Yandle ranks first among the team's blueliners in both points (61) and assists (52). Additionally, his 39 points on the power play also stand as a franchise record and rank third in the NHL this season. A native of Boston, he is just the 14th U.S.-born defenseman in NHL history to reach the 60-point mark.

- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in average ice time per game (23:36), while also pacing the club's defensemen and ranking tied for 12th among NHL blueliners in goals (13). The 23-year-old enters today's matchup with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) over his last 21 games.

- Mike Hoffman leads Florida with a career-high 35 goals. Of those scores, 17 have come on the power play, which is the tied for the fourth-most in the NHL this season. The 29-year old has posted a career-best 69 points, including 10 goals and 14 assists over his last 26 games.

- Evgenii Dadonov enters tonight's matchup having found his way onto the scoresheet in 11 of his last 15 games. The 30-year-old winger has racked up a career-high 69 points (28 goals, 41 assists) this season, including six goals and 14 assists over his last 21 contests.

- Frank Vatrano has reached career-highs in goals (24), assists (15) and points (39). In his first full season with the Panthers, the 25-year-old winger's 22 even-strength goals are tied for the team lead. He also paces the club's forwards with 73 blocked shots.

- Troy Brouwer leads Florida with 173 hits and enters tonight's matchup with three goals in his last four games.

- Florida owns the second-ranked power play in the NHL, boasting a 27.1 percent success rate.

GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME

Roberto Luongo (18-16-4, 3.10 GAA, .900 SV%) vs. Mackenzie Blackwood (9-10-0, 2.59 GAA, .917 SV%)

After backing up rookie goaltender Sam Montembeault in Thursday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Islanders, Luongo will return to the crease to close out the season against the Devils. Luongo, who turned 40 on Thursday, has been exceptional in recent outings, winning each of his last three starts behind an outstanding .934 save percentage. In his career against New Jersey, he's gone 14-16-0 with a 2.70 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and four shutouts.

While the Panthers go with their veteran, the Devils will turn to a rookie, as Blackwood is slated to close out the season for New Jersey. The 22-year-old owns a 3-2-0 record over his last five starts, posting a .912 save percentage in that span. He has yet to face Florida in his career.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Denis Malgin

Jamie McGinn - Henrik Borgstrom - Colton Sceviour

Frank Vatrano - Riley Sheahan - Troy Brouwer

Defense

Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad

Keith Yandle - MacKenzie Weegar

Mark Pysyk - Josh Brown

Goalies

Roberto Luongo

James Reimer

Scratches: Ian McCoshen, Brady Keeper

Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- April 5: G Sam Montembeault, F Jayce Hawryluk and F Dryden Hunt were loaned to Springfield (AHL).

- March 18: The Panthers signed D Brady Keeper to a two-year, entry-level contract.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- Fan Appreciation Night

- 50% Off 25th Anniversary Merchandise in Pantherland

HOW TO WATCH

When: Saturday, April 6, 7:00 p.m.

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: FOX Sports Sun

Stream: HERE

Florida Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

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