"I think both teams are coming in pretty frustrated after the losses that we had respectively," Panthers blueliner Mike Matheson said after Wednesday's practice. "It'll be an intense game. We need to show that we're a hard team to play against at home and come ready to play."
Against the Coyotes, Noel Acciari and Mike Hoffman netted their 15th goals of the season just 36 seconds apart to give Florida a 2-1 lead near the midway point of the second period. After that, however, Arizona scored four unanswered goals to snatch two points away from the Cats.
One of the hottest goal-scorers in the league over the last month, Acciari has lit the lamp 10 times over his last 11 contests -- including netting a pair of hat tricks. In his first season with Florida, the 28-year-old winger has already set new career-highs in goals (15) and points (18).
"Definitely disappointing," Acciari said after the loss to the Coyotes. "We played hard in the third, but it just didn't go our way there. These are big games for us right now with how close our division is. Especially being at home, we have to make sure that we get at least a point out of it."
Sitting at 22-16-5, the Panthers have won seven of their last 11 games, but currently trail the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers by three points for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They do, however, have one fewer game played than the Flyers at the moment.
After opening up their four-game homestand with a loss, Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said it's more important than ever for the team to come out strong tonight against the Canucks.
"We cannot be happy," Quenneville said. "There are certain games where you're trying to establish a great homestand here and all of a sudden we have to rectify that with a big effort and a big game here… We want to acquire that consistency, that taste."
Chasing that consistency has been one of the biggest talking points within the Panthers locker room throughout the first half of the season. And, after alternating between wins and losses over their last six games, the team feels that it's poised to piece together a streak in the second half.
"We've been talking about it for a while," Matheson said. "You can't take any games off and you never know what the race will look like one or two months from now. Every point is so important. It seems like this year it's magnified. Every team is so tight and playing well. It seems like a lot of teams are going on runs right now. We feel like that's exactly what we need to do."
For the Canucks, Tuesday's lopsided loss to the Lightning marked the first time that the franchise had surrendered nine goals in a game since a 9-1 loss at Anaheim in January 2014.
After Elias Pettersson opened the scoring with his team-leading 20th goal of the season to give Vancouver a 1-0 lead entering the first intermission, Tampa Bay went on to score a whopping five goals during the second period and then added three more in the third for good measure.
"All of a sudden, five minutes later it's 6-2 and you could really feel a real letdown from our group. I don't think we even recovered in the third period," Canucks coach Travis Green told reporters. "It's hard to come back against a team like that. It's a good challenge now to refocus."
Prior to that defeat, Vancouver had won seven straight games to climb back into the playoff hunt in the Western Conference. Owning a 23-16-4 record, they currently sit just one point behind the Edmonton Oilers for third place in the Pacific Division.
In addition to leading the team in goals (20), Pettersson also paces the Canucks in points (45). Behind him, J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser are tied for second in scoring with 40 points apiece. In their last meeting with Florida, Miller potted a pair of goals in a 7-2 win on home ice on Oct. 28.
While Sergei Bobrovsky will get the nod in net for the Panthers, Vancouver has yet to announce a goaltender for tonight's tilt. In Tampa Bay, starter Jacob Markstrom was pulled in the second period after giving up six goals, while backup Thatcher Demko stopped 13 of 16 shots in relief.
In his career against the Canucks, Bobrovsky has gone 4-5-2 with two shutouts.
"We know they got beat pretty badly last night, so any time that happens to a team they're going to be coming back pretty hungry," said Hoffman, who has tallied nine points (three goals, six assists) over his last nine games. "For ourselves in here, we've kind of got to worry about the way we play. We lost last night as well, so we need a bounce-back game from everyone."
-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers and ranks seventh in the league with 57 points (17 goals, 40 assists), including 16 multi-point contests. Named to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game last week, the 26-year-old has registered 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) over his past 11 games. With three more points, he'll tie Olli Jokinen for the franchise's all-time points record of 419.
-- Keith Yandle ranks fourth among the league's defensemen in assists (29) and is also tied for second in power-play points (17). The 33-year-old leads Florida's defensemen and ranks sixth among the league's blueliners in scoring with 33 points (four goals, 29 assists).
-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on the Panthers in assists (32) and points (45) and is tied for second on the team in power-play goals (6). Over his last 19 games, the 24-year-old center has registered 16 points (six goals, 10 assists).
-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in ice time per game (23:09). The 23-year-old also ranks first among the club's defensemen in goals (5) and second in assists (18) and points (23).
-- Evgenii Dadonov leads Florida in goals (18) and also ranks third in points (34). The 30-year-old winger has at least one point in seven of his 10 last games, posting six goals and four assists in that span.
-- Vincent Trocheck has notched nine points (one goal, eight assists) over his last 12 games. The 26-year-old center also leads Florida in takeaways (36) and faceoff win percentage (54.7).
-- Mike Matheson has produced five points (two goals, three assists) over his last six games.
-- Since Dec. 28, the Panthers have scored the second-most goals in the league (26).
PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari
Frank Vatrano - Dominic Toninato - Mike Hoffman
Colton Sceviour - Brian Boyle - Denis Malgin
Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad
Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle - Mark Pysyk
Scratches: Jayce Hawryluk, Josh Brown, MacKenzie Weegar (upper-body)
- Dec. 27: D Riley Stillman was recalled from AHL Springfield.
- Dec. 23: F Jayce Hawryluk was recalled from his conditioning loan with AHL Springfield.
- Dec. 17: F Ryan Haggerty was acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for F Kevin Roy.
- 50/50 Raffle
- $5 Beer Thursday
- IT'SUGAR Takeover Night
HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN
When: Thursday, Jan. 9, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
Stream: FOX Sports GO
Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)