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Preview: Huberdeau, Barkov Reunited as Panthers Host Hurricanes

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. - In desperate need of some goals late in the third period against the Stars on Thursday, Panthers coach Joel Quenneville shuffled his lines in search of a much-needed spark.

Among the various moves, Jonathan Huberdeau was reunited with Aleksander Barkov on the team's top line, while Frank Vatrano moved up to take Huberdeau's vacated spot on the second.

Catching fire after these changes, the Panthers, who were mired in a 2-0 hole at the time, went on to light the lamp three times - including goals from Barkov and Vatrano - over a span of 3:11 to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat with a thrilling 3-2 win over the Stars at BB&T Center.

Still riding high off that comeback, Quenneville said the Panthers will stick with those new-look lines when they kick off a two-game series against the Hurricanes on Saturday night in Sunrise.

"The lines have been together for a long time here, and usually at some point you try something else," Quenneville said following this morning's skate. "In the third period [against Dallas], I thought all the lines had something there.

"You give it a longer look. You've still got some things you can always go back to, but over the course of the season usually you're going to try just about anybody with everybody so that you can get a better idea of who's the best fit."

Although they've found plenty of success while separated this season, the reunion of Barkov and Huberdeau is certainly something to get excited about. From 2018-2020, the two had an incredible run together while powering the team's top line. Over the 1,452:16 they were on the ice together at 5-on-5 during the course of those two seasons, the Panthers notched 88 goals.

Looking back specifically at 2018-19, the two former All-Stars really helped lift each other to incredible new heights. That season, Barkov set a new franchise record with 96 points (35 goals, 61 assist), while Huberdeau finished with 92, including a franchise-record 62 assists.

So far this season, both have been up to their old tricks. Huberdeau leads the team in assists (16) and points (23), while Barkov is tied for first in goals (8) and ranks second in points (20).

"I think they like to play together, for sure," Quenneville said. "As far as making things happen offensively, they know where each other are. With their give-and-go's and hanging onto the puck, they really know what's going to happen next."

As for other lineup notes, Quenneville said that Radko Gudas will return to action tonight after being a late scratch against the Stars on Thursday due to an upper-body injury. In his first season with Florida, the man they call "The Butcher" has played an integral role both on and off the ice. Bringing a menacing presence to the blue line, his 98 hits lead all defensemen in the league.

Between the pipes, Quenneville also said the Panthers will go back to Sergei Bobrovsky, who is coming off a stellar showing against Dallas in which he made a season-high 37 saves. Settling into a groove as of late, he's gone 3-2-0 behind a .912 save percentage over his last five starts.

"I felt good," Bobrovsky said after shutting down the Stars. "Right from the beginning, I felt comfortable… It's a great win for us. Those kinds of wins when you're down 2-0 and then all of the sudden you find a way to win the game, it gives a great boost of energy in the locker room. Put the points in the bank. That's so important, especially for the end of the season."

Sitting in first place in the Central Division at 13-4-2, the Panthers will now look to recapture that energy in a crucial clash with the Hurricanes. In their only other meeting this season, Huberdeau buried a breakaway goal in overtime to send Florida to a 4-3 victory over Carolina in Raleigh.

Trying to chase down the Panthers in the division, the Hurricanes saw their record dip to 12-6-1 following three straight losses to the Lightning. Finding the goals hard to come by against the defending Stanley Cup champions, Carolina was outscored 10-3 during that three-game span.

After turning aside 19 of 21 shots during a 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday, James Reimer is expected to make his second straight start for the Hurricanes tonight. In 11 appearances this season, the former Panthers netminder has posted an 8-3-0 record with a .897 save percentage.

Up front, Sebastian Aho leads Carolina in scoring with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists), while Vincent Trocheck and Andrei Svechnikov have each tallied 16. Trocheck is also tied with Nino Niederreiter for the team-lead in goals, including scoring three of them over his last six outings.

For Trocheck, who was dealt from the Panthers to the Hurricanes at last year's trade deadline, tonight's matchup will mark his first game back at BB&T Center since the move. A third-round pick back in 2011, he still ranks ninth in Florida's history in both assists (171) and points (282).

"It's just a little weird obviously being back here on the other side, going into the visitor's dressing room," said Trocheck, who suited up in 420 games over parts of seven seasons with the Panthers. "I don't think I've ever been over here before. It's just another game really. Another game against a really good team that we've got to come out and play hard against."

With a win tonight, the Panthers can also make history in more ways than one.

If they come out victorious against the Hurricanes, they'll not only tie a franchise record for the most wins accumulated over their first 20 games of a season, but with the calendar about to flip to March, they'll also tie the record for their most wins ever in the month of February with nine.

"You felt [the energy] walking in this morning," Panthers forward Anthony Duclair said. "We're a pretty confident bunch. We've been saying that for a couple weeks now. That just adds to that last game. You can ever count us out. We're always going to work as hard as we can in any situation. For us, we want to keep our foot on the gas. We have a really tough test these next two games here. We know with Carolina that's it's never going to be easy. They're a skilled team, a fast team, one of the fastest in the league. We've got to be ready right off the bat."

TEAM RECORDS

FLA: 13-4-2, 28 PTS

CAR: 12-6-1, 25 PTS

FLA all-time vs. CAR: 51-50-11-13

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on the Panthers scoring with 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists), including racking up four goals over his last seven games. In 21 career matchups against the Hurricanes, the 25-year-old center has recorded 19 points (five goals, 14 assists).

-- Aaron Ekblad leads Florida's defensemen in goals (6) and power-play goals (3). With one more power-play goal, he'll pass Robert Svehla (26) for the most by a blueliner in franchise history. A workhorse, the 25-year-old also leads the club in average ice time per game (25:12).

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Cats with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists). In 24 career games against Carolina, the 27-year-old winger has posted 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists).

-- Patric Hornqvist leads Florida in power-play goals (5) and is tied for the overall lead in goals with eight. In 28 career games against the Hurricanes, the 34-year-old veteran has produced 16 points (eight goals, eight assists). In his last 10 games, he's tallied three goals and five assists.

-- The Panthers have registered a league-leading 357 hits over the club's last 13 games.

-- Keith Yandle leads Florida's defensemen in scoring with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) and is also tied for first on the team in power-play points with nine (one goal, eight assists).

-- Brett Connolly is one goal away from his 100th in the NHL.

PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Carter Verhaeghe

Frank Vatrano - Alex Wennberg - Patric Hornqvist

Mason Marchment - Eetu Luostarinen - Anthony Duclair

Ryan Lomberg - Juho Lammikko - Brett Connolly

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Kevin Connauton - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas

Goaltenders

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Scratches: Gustav Forsling (lower body), Noah Juulsen, Vinnie Hinostroza

Taxi squad: Riley Stillman, Grigori Denisenko, Owen Tippett, Philippe Desrosiers

Injured reserve: Noel Acciari (upper body), Markus Nutivaara (upper body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Feb. 25: F Mason Marchment and D Kevin Connauton were recalled from Florida's Taxi Squad; F Owen Tippett was loaned to Florida's Taxi Squad; F Grigori Denisenko was reassigned from Syracuse (AHL) to Florida's Taxi Squad; D Markus Nutivaara was placed on IR.

- Feb. 24: D Max Gildon was reassigned from Syracuse (AHL) to Bakersfield (AHL); D Tommy Cross was assigned to Providence (AHL).

- Feb. 22: D Riley Stillman was reassigned from Syracuse (AHL) to Florida's Taxi Squad; F Scott Wilson was reassigned to Syracuse (AHL).

- Feb. 17: D Gustav Forsling was activated from IR; F Noel Acciari was placed on IR.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- 50/50 Raffle

- Retro Paradise Night

- Black History Night

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Saturday, Feb. 27 at 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: FOX Sports Florida

Stream: FOX Sports GO

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys) 107.9 FM/1370 AM WZTA (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM Ch. 220 / Streaming 932

Tickets: HERE

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