"After the finish with our homestand, we didn't finish where we wanted," Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas said. "We got two points out of the last two games, but we wanted more. There's going to be a good push from us early on in this trip. We want to make the most out of it."
The last team in the league to lose consecutive games this season, the Panthers, who currently occupy third place in the Central Division at 13-4-4, mounted a series of impressive third-period comebacks against Carolina, but came up just short in each meeting of the of the two-game set.
Making a habit out of clawing their way out of early deficits, the "Comeback Cats" have certainly been creating a lot of excitement for fans early on this season. In fact, they enter tonight's game tied with the Blues for the most wins in the entire league in games they've trailed 1-0 with eight.
That being said, the Panthers would like to do more leading than chasing starting tonight.
"We want to come out to a hot start and really set the tone for the road trip," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "Obviously, a win in the first game of a road trip kind of sets you up to have that positive mindset for the rest of it."
Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in scoring with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists), while Aleksander Barkov is close behind with 22 (eight goals, 14 assists). Frank Vatrano, however, is the one carrying the hottest stick at the moment, scoring a goal in each of his last three games.
Returning to the crease after backing up Chris Driedger on Monday, Sergei Bobrovsky will man the pipes against the Predators. Settling into a nice groove as of late, the 32-year-old veteran has gone 1-1-1 while stopping 92 of 99 shots for a .929 save percentage in his last three starts.
"I see more consistency in his game, a little more patience in the net," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Bobrovsky. "Confidence, you can see in his movement, how he positions himself at the top of the crease. He's waiting and finding pucks and looks like he's in control."
The Predators currently sit in sixth place in the Central Division with a 10-12-0 record. Shaking out of an early-season slump, they had won four of five games before suffering a 4-2 loss to the visiting Hurricanes on Tuesday in the third game of their five-game homestand in the Music City.
The Panthers split their previous two-game series with Nashville early on last month in Sunrise, losing 6-5 in overtime in the first game before getting revenge with a 2-1 win the following night.
"First game on a trip here, you want to start off on a positive note," Quenneville said. "[The Predators] are able to beat anybody and have in the past as well. They're a hard team in that building. We expect a hard game. Let's try to keep playing the same way from start to finish."
Filip Forsberg leads Nashville in scoring with 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists), including two goals and three assists against Florida this season. After him, reigning Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi has 13 points (two goals, 11 assists), while five other players have at least eight.
On Tuesday, the Predators announced that both Ryan Ellis (upper body) and Luke Kunin (lower body) - who've combined for 14 points this season - had been placed on injured reserve and will be out of action for multiple weeks. Additionally, Ryan Johansen was added to the NHL's COVID-19 protocols list. Heading into tonight's matchup, Johannsen's' status is up in the air.
With Juuse Saros also suffering an injury on Tuesday, Pekka Rinne is expected to get the start in net against the Panthers. In 13 appearances this season, the 34-year-old veteran owns a 5-7-0 record with a 2.46 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and one shutout to his credit.
In two games against Florida this season, Rinne has stopped 46 of 48 shots.
"That's part of what any season is about, and I know coming into this season, we figured there were going to be injuries in the short season," Predators coach Jon Hynes told the team's website about the recent battle with the injury bug. "A lot of guys are out because it's such a condensed schedule, they may miss more games than they normally would, so, next man up."
Off to a great start away from home, the Panthers have gone 6-1-1 on the road this season.
FLA: 13-4-4, 30 PTS
NSH: 10-11-0, 20 PTS
FLA all-time vs. NSH: 16-9-3-6
-- Radko Gudas is expected to compete in the 500th game of his NHL career tonight. In the midst of his first season with the Panthers, the 30-year-old defenseman leads the team and ranks second in the league with 105 hits, including dishing out 21 over his last four contests.
-- 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. In 14 career games against Nashville, the 25-year-old has registered seven points.
-- Patric Hornqvist leads the Panthers in both goals (9) and power-play goals (5). Over his last nine games, the 34-year-old forward has accumulated seven points (three goals, four assists).
-- The NHL's active ironman, Keith Yandle leads Florida's defensemen in scoring with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists). Of those points, nine have come while on the power play. In 40 career games against the Predators, the 34-year-old has produced 30 points (seven goals, 23 assists).
-- Eetu Luostarinen has a goal and an assist over his last three games. The 22-year-old center also sits second on the Panthers in takeaways (18), including seven over his last four games.
-- MacKenzie Weegar leads Florida's defensemen in even-strength points with 10 (one goal, nine assists), including registering six points (one goal, five assists) over his last nine games.
PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)
Frank Vatrano - Aleksander Barkov - Carter Verhaeghe
Jonathan Huberdeau - Alex Wennberg - Patric Hornqvist
Mason Marchment - Eetu Luostarinen - Noel Acciari
Ryan Lomberg - Juho Lammikko - Vinnie Hinostroza
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle - Anton Stralman
Gustav Forsling - Radko Gudas
Scratches: Riley Stillman, Kevin Connauton, Owen Tippett
Taxi squad: Grigori Denisenko, Brett Connolly, Philippe Desrosiers
Injured reserve: Anthony Duclair (lower body), Markus Nutivaara (upper body), Noah Juulsen (upper body)
- March 1: F Owen Tippett and D Riley Stillman were recalled from Florida's Taxi Squad; F Brett Connolly was loaned to Florida's Taxi Squad.
- March 1: F Noel Acciari was activated from IR; F Anthony Duclair and D Noah Juulsen were placed on IR.
- March 1: The Panthers and F Logan Hutsko agreed to terms on a two-year, entry-level contract beginning in 2021-22.
HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN
When: Thursday, March 4 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bridgestone Arena - Nashville, TN
TV: FOX Sports Florida
Stream: FOX Sports GO
Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys) 107.9 FM / 1370 AM WZTA (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM Streaming 932
Pre-Game Listen: Hear from NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen on this week's episode of the Territory Talk podcast.