SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are getting hot down the home stretch and will look to extend their winning streak to four games when they host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night at BB&T Center.
The Panthers (29-25-6) are at the halfway through a season-long six-game homestand and enter March on the heels of three straight wins against playoff-bound Washington, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
Florida has won 10 of its last 13 games - the fifth-best record in the NHL since Jan. 30 - earning the fifth-most points in the NHL since Jan. 30.
"I wish it could say it's getting easier but it's not, with Jersey here tonight," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said after Thursday's morning skate. "Our goal was to make sure that we gave ourselves a chance coming into March, and here we are.
"I think that we're not looking ahead to Buffalo and Philly in two games from now. It's about Jersey tonight. A good weekend puts your in a really good spot... We know that; the players know that. I think they're hungry, they're having a lot of fun and it's a good dressing room right now."
The Panthers have benefited from secondary scoring as of late, with bottom-six forwards like Jared McCann, Jamie McGinn, Maxim Mamin Derek MacKenzie all finding the back of the net during the team's recent stretch at home.
McCann, 21, scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lift the Panthers to a 3-2 win over the Leafs on Thursday - the third straight win in which the deciding goal was scored with less than two minutes remaining in regulation or in overtime.
"It makes it a little easier on our top-two lines," McGinn said. "That's what we want to do. We want to help out any way we can. It doesn't happen every night, but if we're not scoring we want to make sure that we're in the offensive end, we're helping out and just gaining momentum for the other lines to get going."
Florida has scored at least one power play goal in nine of its last 12 games, but expects to have a tough night against New Jersey's ninth-ranked penalty kill (82.5 percent), which has gone 12-for-12 over the last five games. Since Feb. 5, the Panthers' power play is operating at the best rate in the NHL, converting on 12-for-35 opportunities with the extra attacker (34.3 percent).
"They're really strong on the PK and they pressure a lot," McGinn said. "On that aspect, we have to do well on the power play, move it quick and be ready for them to strike. They're a quick team."
The Devils (33-22-8) have split their three-game season series with the Panthers thus far, with McCann leading Florida to a 3-2 victory in Newark during their last meeting on Nov. 27. New Jersey enters tonight's matchup with wins in each of its last two games and six of eight overall, including a 3-2 win in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Taylor Hall leads the Devils in goals (27), assists (41) and points (68) and has at least one point in 22 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the league this season. He has 15 goals and 17 assists during that span and is the fifth NHL player in the past 25 years to string together a 22-game point streak.
For the Panthers, keeping Hall of the scoresheet will be key.
"We have to try and shut him down tonight," Boughner said. "They key to Taylor's game is his speed. We've got to make sure to try and not let him behind us. He seems to get in two or three opportunities a game where they're throwing the pucks wide to him, banking it to him and he's beating the defense up the ice. That's a key. We've got to make sure that we try and contain him as best as we can."
The Panthers own a 6-1-0 record over their last seven games against the Devils.
- Roberto Luongo will make his fifth consecutive start in net for the Panthers. The 38-year-old goaltender is 4-1-0 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in five starts since returning from a groin injury that sidelined him for more than two months.
- Jonathan Huberdeau has scored 10 goals and posted 24 points over his last 25 games played and currently ranks second on the Panthers in points (tied-57) and multi-point games (14), while also sitting first in assists (tied-38) and third in goals (19).
- Aleksander Barkov has been producing at better than a point-per-game pace recently, posting 29 points (10-19-29) over his last 25 games and 16 points (6-10-16) over his last 11. In the midst of his third consecutive 20-goal and 50-point campaign, the 22-year-old center leads the Panthers in points (59) and assists (tied-38), while also ranking second in goals (21).
- Vincent Trocheck recorded his team-leading 20th power play point on Tuesday, becoming the first Panther to hit that mark since Brian Campbell (31) and Tomas Fleischmann (22) in 2011-12. The 24-year-old center has has scored a team-leading 23 goals and has registered a career-high 57 points in 60 games this season. - In 12 games during the month of February, the Panthers owned a 9-3-0 record, marking the franchise's most successful February in history.
Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Radim Vrbata
Jamie McGinn - Jared McCann - Maxim Mamin
Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
MacKenzie Weegar - Alex Petrovic
Scratches: Ian McCoshen, Connor Brickley
Injured Reserve: Frank Vatrano (lower-body)
- Feb. 14: G Roberto Luongo activated from IR
- Feb. 14: G Harri Sateri loaned to Springfield (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, March 1, 7:30 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); 850 WFTL (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)