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Vatrano to Play as Panthers Go For 8th Straight Win at Home

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

3/10/18 Morning Skate

3/10/18 Morning Skate

Interviews with Bob Boughner, Aleksander Barkov, Michael Matheson and Frank Vatrano

  • 01:36 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - Showing no signs of slowing down in their push towards the postseason, the Florida Panthers will attempt to extend their winning streak at home to a franchise-record eight games when they host the New York Rangers on Saturday night at BB&T Center.

The Panthers (33-25-7) have points in each of their last eight games - a season high -- and have won 14 of their last 18 games overall. Florida trails New Jersey by three points for the second wild card spot into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference with three games in hand.

Florida is 20-9-3 at home and has not lost in Sunrise since Feb. 9.

"I said a few weeks ago that we were in a spot where we had to hope other teams around us failed. Now, we're sort of in a spot where we control our own destiny," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said after Saturday's morning skate. "We have games in hand and we're right there in points. We have to take care of our own business."

Frank Vatrano will make his long-awaited debut for the Panthers, playing alongside Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau on the second line. Acquired from Boston for a third-round pick on Feb. 22, Vatrano has been sidelined by a high-ankle sprain since Feb. 6.

In 25 games with the Bruins this season, the 23-year-old forward scored just two goals while averaging 9:28 of ice time in a primarily bottom-six role. With Florida, however, Vatrano has been given the opportunity to showcase his offensive talents as a top-six winger.

"It's obviously pretty exciting, the first game with a new team," Vatrano said. "The guys have been great since I've been here. I've obviously been nursing an injury a little bit, so it's nice to finally be healthy and ready to help the guys make the playoffs.

"Playing with some good guys tonight, guys who have been successful in this league and are having pretty good years. For me, I'm just trying to go in there, create space for them and trying to get as open as possible. Hopefully we can get some good chemistry right off the bat."

Boughner said Vatrano could also potentially see some time on the power play.

"He might see some time on the second-unit power play on the flank," Boughner said. "I know we've gone through some chalk talks and some video with him. It'll take him some time to adjust, but he's a good player. I know he's excited for the opportunity."

By adding Vatrano into the mix on offense, the Panthers expect their red-hot attack to be even better. After a lopsided 5-0 win over Montreal on Thursday, Florida has now scored at least four goals in each of its last four games, with the top-line trio of Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Nick Bjugstad combining for 22 points (9-13-22) during that span.

"When you're winning it's fun," Barkov said. "It builds confidence in the room."

After making the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons, the Rangers (30-32-6) appear to be headed to the NHL Draft Lottery after having lost nine of their last 12 games. In the midst of a late-season tailspin, they traded away four of their top-nine scorers - J.T. Miller, Michael Grabner, Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash - at last month's deadline.

Still, Boughner knows New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist can steal any game he plays.

A former Vezina Trophy winner, Lundqvist owns a 25-23-5 record with a 2.92 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and two shutouts this season. The 36-year-old was pulled after allowing four goals on 31 shots in Tampa on Thursday.

"If Lundqvist plays, he's a guy that can win a game by himself," Boughner said. "We have to make sure that we have people in the paint and in his eyes, and that we're throwing a lot of shot attempts at him."

The Panthers are 1-0-1 against the Rangers this season.

NOTES

- The Panthers have gone 15-for-49 (30.6 percent) with the man advantage of their last 15 games. Since Feb. 5, Florida's power play unit ranks first in the NHL. Vincent Trocheck leads the club with a career-high 12 powerplay goals and 22 power-play points.

- Aleksander Barkov enters tonight's game on a season-high eight-game point streak (5-9-14) - one game shy of tying his career high (9 games, 2015-16). The 22-year-old center is two points away from becoming the first Panther to post 70 points in a season since Olli Jokinen produced 71 points in 2007-08. As it stands now, Barkov's team-leading 68 points (25-43-68) place him ninth in franchise history for points in a single season.

- Vincent Trocheck scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season on Thursday, passing his previous career-high of 25 goals. The 24-year-old center has posted seven points (4-3-7) over his last eight games.

- Nick Bjugstad has posted 10 points (5-5-10) over his last eight games and enters tonight's matchup with four goals in his last two. The 25-year-old forward is four points away from tying his career-high for points (43, 2014-15).

- Roberto Luongo is expected to start for the Panthers on Saturday. Since returning to the lineup from a roughly two-month absence on Feb. 17, the 38-year-old has posted a 7-1-1 record with a 2.31 goals-against average, a .934 save percentage and one shutout.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad

Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Frank Vatrano

Jamie McGinn - Jared McCann - Maxim Mamin

Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour

Defense

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk

MacKenzie Weegar - Alex Petrovic

Goalies

Roberto Luongo

James Reimer

Scratches: Ian McCoshen, Connor Brickley, Denis Malgin, Radim Vrbata

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- March 10: F Frank Vatrano activated from IR

- Feb. 14: G Roberto Luongo activated from IR

- Feb. 14: G Harri Sateri loaned to Springfield (AHL)

HOW TO WATCH

When: Saturday, March 10, 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)

Tickets: https://www.nhl.com/panthers/tickets

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