SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers will play their fourth straight game against a current playoff team when the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins visit BB&T Center on Saturday.
The Panthers (27-25-6) kick started their season-long six-game homestand with an emotional 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Thursday, scoring two goals in the final four minutes of regulation to pick up the eighth win in their last 11 games.
Vincent Trocheck scored the game-winning goal with 18.7 seconds remaining, lifting the Panthers to victory in their first home game since a shooting claimed the lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland, Florida.
"It was a perfect finish the other night," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said after Saturday's morning skate. From all that went on during the game and the ceremony and how the game went and ending up finding a way to win, it was a perfect night. Moving on now, it doesn't get any easier.
"We're playing the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. I think they've won six in a row. They're probably playing their best hockey of the year, but this is a good measuring stick for us. I've said that morning to the guys already. We know we have to win games to get in [to the playoffs]. You've got to beat some real good teams, and this might be one of the best teams."
Trocheck's game-winning tally marked the seventh time in the past eight games that the Panthers have lit the lamp with the man advantage. Since Feb. 1, Florida's power play is operating at the second-best rate in the NHL, going 13-for-38 (34.2 percent) with the extra attacker.
In recent weeks, Trocheck has been playing at a point-per-game pace, recording 17 points (8-9-17) over his last 17 games. The 24-year-old center has also scored five goals in his last six games and leads Florida in both goals (23) and power play goals (11).
Florida currently trails Columbus by five points for a wild card spot with three games in hand.
"I think we've kind of been taking a little bit of a step these last 10 games," Trocheck said. "I think we've got to still be a little bit more consistent and play a full 60 minutes every night. We definitely have that urgency and that mindset that right now that it's the playoffs. If we don't turn it on and continue to play the way we have the last 10 for the rest of the season, we're not going to make the playoffs."
Roberto Luongo will make his second straight start and third overall after sitting out more than two months with a groin injury. Since returning to Florida's lineup on Feb. 17 in Calgary, the 38-year-old goaltender has played phenomenally, posting a 2.01 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage.
"It's nice to have a guy like that back in the net," Panthers center Aleksander Barkov said. "It gives us a lot of confidence."
The Penguins (36-22-4) are coming off a back-to-back after filling up the scoresheet in a 6-1 dismantling of the Hurricanes in Carolina on Friday night. Pittsburgh has lost just three times in regulation since Jan. 1, while winning six straight games and 11 of their last 13 overall.
Pittsburgh owns the league's top-ranked power play (26.9 percent) and seventh-ranked offense (3.2 goals per game), led by forwards Evgeni Malkin (73 points), Phil Kessel (69) and Sidney Crosby (67). Malkin ranks second in the league with 34 goals and has recorded 37 points (20-17-37) since Jan. 1.
"A lot of star power, a lot of skill," Trocheck said of the Penguins. "I think we've said it every night this last little bit, we've got to stay disciplined. I think it's going to come down to structure, for us, a lot tonight. It's making sure we're staying on d-side of their bigger guys, knowing who we're out there against, limiting turnovers. They obviously thrive off the transition game, so just stay structured."
- With an assist on Trocheck's game-winning goal on Thursday, Jonathan Huberdeau registered his 252nd NHL point, breaking a tie with Pavel Bure for ninth on the franchise points list. The 24-year-old winger currently leads the Panthers in assists (36), primary assists (24) and even-strength goals (14), while also ranking second on the team in multi-point games (13).
- Aleksander Barkov is one point away from tying Ray Whitney (227) for 11th place in franchise history for points. The 22-year-old center leads the Panthers in points (55) and has posted 25 points (9-16-25) over his last 23 games.
- Mike Matheson ranks second in goals (8) and third in points (22) among Panthers defensemen and has recorded five points (2-3-5) over his last seven games. The 23-year-old also leads Florida's blueliners with 46 takeaways, which is also enough for seventh among defensemen in the NHL.
- Nick Bjugstad has posted eight points (2-6-8) over his last 10 games. He recorded the game-tying goal on Thursday against Washington, reaching the 30-point mark for the fourth time in his career. The 25-year-old ranks sixth on the Panthers in goals (11), with all of them coming at even strength.
Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Denis Malgin
Jamie McGinn - Jared McCann - Maxim Mamin
Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
Ian McCoshen - Alex Petrovic
Roberto Luongo James Reimer
Scratches: MacKenzie Weegar, Connor Brickley, Radim Vrbata
- Feb. 14: G Roberto Luongo activated from IR
- Feb. 14: G Harri Sateri loaned to Springfield (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Saturday, Feb. 24, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
TV coverage: FOX Sports Florida (check local listings)
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 GO and NHL.TV (outside state of Florida)