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Preview: Panthers Want to 'Ramp Things Up' in Matchup with Stars

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Still jockeying for position heading into the playoffs, the Panthers will look to pick up another big two points when they close the book on their season series with the Stars at BB&T Center on Monday.

As it stands now, the Panthers (34-14-5) are tied with the Lightning (35-14-3) for second place in the Central Division, while both teams trail the Hurricanes (34-10-7) by just two points for first.

"Obviously, the only thing we can do is focus on our game," Panthers forward Alex Wennberg said after this morning's skate. "The only thing we can do is go out and take it one game at a time. Right now, we've got Dallas. If we win there, we'll see how it goes. We can't look too much into the future. It's a great test right now to prepare for the playoffs. We're super excited for it."

Picking up wins in eight of their last 11 games, the Panthers wrapped up the road portion of their regular-season schedule with a 5-4 win at Chicago on Saturday. Staying red-hot, Anthony Duclair found the back of the net twice in the win, giving him four goals in his last three games.

Aleksander Barkov, Nikita Gusev and Owen Tippett also touched twine against the Blackhawks, while Sergei Bobrovsky turned aside 31 of 34 shots between the pipes to improve to 18-8-2.

Filling up opposing nets to the tune of 17 goals over his last 22 games, Barkov not only paces the Panthers, but also ranks tied for sixth in the NHL with a whopping 25 goals on the season. He also sits second on the club in scoring with 54 points, trailing only Jonathan Huberdeau's 58.

"He's had a tremendous year," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Barkov. "I think Barky represents being a 200-foot player more than anybody in the game. His speed at both sides, both ways, he's exemplified that consistency as well. He's had a special year in a lot of ways."

With Bobrovsky getting a breather, rookie goaltender Spencer Knight will get the nod against the Stars. The 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Knight, who only turned 20 last month, has looked sharp during his first three appearances, going 3-0-0 with a .943 save percentage.

Now, it's rare you spend time in a game preview talking about backup goaltenders, but I'm going to make an exception for Philippe Desrosiers. Playing an integral role as Florida's primary puck stopper on the taxi squad, the 25-year-old will dress in the first NHL game of his career tonight.

With a huge smile on his face, Desrosiers said it's going to be a "dream come true" to suit up.

"When they grabbed me, I actually thought I was getting sent down," said Desrosiers, who, oddly enough, was originally a second-round pick of the Stars back in 2013. "I know we have a couple goalies here now, but they said I deserve [to back up] and it's been quite a year for me working and practicing. I'm really excited. It's a long road so far, but I'm really excited for it."

In terms of other lineup notes, Quenneville said Sam Bennett will miss tonight's games and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. After missing the last six games with an upper-body injury of his own, Mason Marchment will return to action and looks to be centering the club's third line.

Other than that, Chris Driedger (lower body), Carter Verhaeghe (upper body) and Patric Hornqvist (upper body) are all progressing in their recoveries and could return this week.

"We'll focus on this one, and then we have a couple days off to rest," Wennberg said.

Sitting at 21-17-13, the Stars currently trail the Predators by three points for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division, but also have one game in hand. Entering tonight's matchup looking to shake out of a three-game losing skid, they fell 1-0 in overtime at Nashville their last time out.

With their offense a bit stagnant, Dallas has been shut out in two of its last three contests.

"We played our hearts out, we did," Stars coach Rick Bowness told the team's official website after the loss to the Predators on Saturday. "We didn't give up much, obviously we didn't score and we're trying to score. In terms of the effort and the commitment to the team, 100% satisfied."

Joe Pavelski leads the Stars in goals (21), points (44) and power-play points (20), while rookie Jason Robertson paces the club in assists (40). Likely circled on the pre-game scouting report, Robertson has six points (four goals, two assists) in seven games against Florida this season.

Making his second straight start, Anton Khudobin will man the crease for Dallas. Owning an 11-10-7 record with a .910 save percentage, the 34-year-old veteran goaltender has faced down the Panthers five times this season, posting a 2-1-2 record with a strong .943 save percentage.

Overall, the Panthers boast a 5-2-0 mark against the Stars this season.

"There's obviously a lot to look forward to here," Panthers forward Ryan Lomberg said of kicking off the final homestand of the season. "You can tell by the atmosphere in the room that we're all excited. We're trying to ramp things up and make sure that we're full stride here come playoffs."

TEAM RECORDS

FLA: 34-14-5, 73 PTS

DAL: 21-17-13, 55 PTS

FLA all-time vs. DAL: 22-19-3-1

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Aleksander Barkov leads Florida in goals (25) and shots on goal (167). Over his last 16 games, he's registered 17 points, including racking up a team-leading 12 goals in that span.

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in assists (40) and points (58). Over his last 11 games, he's accumulated 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and an outstanding +14 rating.

-- Anthony Duclair has recorded 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) over his last 13 games to push his point total on the season to 31. In that 13-game span, he boasts a stellar +18 rating.

-- MacKenzie Weegar leads Florida's defensemen in scoring with a career-high 32 points (four goals, 28 assists). He also ranks first among NHL blueliners in even-strength points with 28. 

-- Frank Vatrano ranks tied for second on the Panthers with 18 goals, including a team-leading seven game-winners. Of those 18 goals, 14 have been scored in the third period or overtime.

-- Alex Wennberg has recorded four points (two goals, two assists) over his last five games. Sitting at 13 goals on the season, he will set a new career high next time he lights the lamp.

--Over his last 18 games, Gustav Forsling has notched nine points (two goals, seven assists) while skating a team-leading 383:43.

-- Radko Gudas leads the Panthers and ranks first in the NHL in hits with 229.

-- Florida is the first club in the NHL this season to have eight players score at least 10 goals.

PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

Forwards

Grigori Denisenko - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair

Jonathan Huberdeau - Alex Wennberg - Owen Tippett

Frank Vatrano - Mason Marchment - Aleksi Heponiemi

Ryan Lomberg - Noel Acciari - Nikita Gusev

Defensemen

Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar

Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour

Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas

Goaltenders

Spencer Knight

Philippe Desrosiers

Scratches: Eetu Luostarinen, Juho Lammikko, Sam Bennett (upper body), Patric Hornqvist (upper body), Matt Kiersted, Nikita Gusev, Noah Juulsen, Anton Stralman, Chris Driedger (lower body), Carter Verhaeghe (upper body), Sergei Bobrovsky

Taxi squad: Kevin Connauton, Scott Wilson, Cole Schwindt, Brady Keeper, Sam Montembeault

Injured reserve: Aaron Ekblad (lower body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

-- May 3: G Philippe Desrosiers was reassigned from the Taxi Squad to Florida's active roster.

- April 28: D Brady Keeper and G Sam Montembeault were reassigned from AHL Syracuse to the Taxi Squad.

- April 26: F Grigori Denisenko and F Aleksi Heponiemi were reassigned from AHL Syracuse to the Taxi Squad.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- 50/50 Raffle 

- Teacher Appreciation Night: All teachers in attendance will receive a 25% discount on merchandise at Pantherland and 20% off food and beverages at Coca-Cola concession stands by showing their school ID or badge.

- A limited number of fans will be admitted to BB&T Center for home games this season. Learn that have been taken as a part of the "Red Reminders" program presented in conjunction with Baptist Health South Florida at FloridaPanthers.com/RedReminders.

- Mobile Ordering is now available at BB&T Center for Panthers games. Visit FloridaPanthers.com/MobileOrdering for all the info.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Monday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: Bally Sports Florida

Stream: Bally Sports App

Radio: 560 WQAM (DADE/BROWARD); 640 WMEN (PALM BEACH); 100.3 WCTH (FLORIDA KEYS); 107.9 FM/1370 AM WZTA (TREASURE COAST) SIRIUSXM CH. 203/APP & STREAMING CH. 932

Tickets: HERE

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