“He’s out there skating right now,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said after today’s morning skate. “We’ll see how he feels when he gets off the ice; optimistic that he feels good… when he’s in net, he’s a calming effect. The guys are aware that we want to play tight in front of him and make him feel good early on.”
Luongo has been out of the lineup since extending his left leg to make a pad save during the first period of Florida’s 4-1 loss at Carolina on Nov. 23. When healthy, the 39-year-old goalie has gone 4-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, losing three straight starts after winning his first four following a separate lower-body injury suffered during the season opener on Oct. 6.
Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said Luongo’s return will boost the team’s confidence.
“It’s always really nice to have those type of guys back in the lineup,” Barkov said. “When he’s on the ice, he gives us the confidence and tells us what to do. He’s a really big leader on the ice and off the ice, too. We really like him.”
The Panthers (10-10-5) are coming off a 5-4 overtime loss to Tampa on Saturday in which they jumped out to a three-goal lead only to see it evaporate late in the game. They are 2-1-2 on their current eight-game homestand and are facing the Bruins for the first time this season.
In a heated playoff race at the end of the 2017-18 campaign, Florida defeated Boston twice in four days to close out its season with 96 points – the third-best finish in franchise history. But with eight months having passed since then, players don’t see it as something to build off of.
Still, Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said he knows what to expect against a historically tough Bruins squad.
“It’s a different season,” Yandle said when asked about last season’s strong finish. “I was actually just looking at their roster, and there’s a lot of different guys, too. I don’t know how much that comes into play. Anytime you play the Bruins, you know what you’re going to get.”
Sitting just four points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand, the Panthers are poised to make their move in the Eastern Conference. In order to do so, however, they’ll need to first get through a banged-up Bruins squad that has stayed afloat despite missing two of its superstars.
In the absence of four-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron and six-time all-star Zdeno Chara, Boston has won four of its last seven. That said, stellar goaltending has been masking offensive struggles, as the team has scored two-or-fewer goals in seven of its last eight outings.
At 14-8-4, the Bruins currently sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division.
“Both teams are banged up at this point,” Boughner said. “A division game is always huge. It’s a four-point game for us, and there’s a lot of teams we haven’t seen in our division. It’s good to play them right now… I think their goaltending has been unbelievable.”
Looking to make life hard for Boston’s goaltender, who will either be Tuukka Rask or Jaroslav Halak, will be Jonathan Huberdeau. Named the NHL’s “Third Star of the Week” on Monday, the 25-year-old enters tonight’s game riding a streak of five straight multi-point performances.
Huberdeau leads the Panthers in scoring this season with 28 points, while his 22 assists are tied for eighth among NHL forwards.
“I think I’m just keeping it simple out there,” Huberdeau said of his hot start to the season. “I’m trying to work as hard as I can every game to help our team to win. Obviously it’s nice to have “Third Star of the Week,” but I’ve just got to keep going. I think I’ve been playing well. I’ve just got to keep working to get two points for the team.”
— Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov enters tonight on a four-game point streak, posting three goals and two assists in that span. He currently ranks third on Florida in goals (10) and fourth in points (23), while also leading the team in takeaways (44) and average ice time (22:59).
— Keith Yandle currently leads all Panthers defensemen in points (23) and assists (19). His 23 points are tied for sixth among NHL blueliners, while his 16 power-play points are good enough for second among all skaters – one fewer than Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov.
— Aaron Ekblad has registered nine points (five goals, four assists) over his last 11 games. With four more goals, the 22-year-old will overtake Robert Svehla (61) as the franchise’s all-time leader in goals by a defenseman.
— The Panthers have registered at least one goal with the extra attacker in 15 of their last 16 games. Since Nov. 1, they own the second-ranked power play in the NHL, going a staggering 20-for-57 (35.1 percent) with the man advantage during that span.
— Evgenii Dadonov enters tonight on a five-game point streak, notching three goals and three assists during that span. The 29-year-old is tied with Mike Hoffman for the team-lead in goals (12), while also ranking third in assists (14) and second in points (26).
— Panthers center Jared McCann as tallied three goals over his last five games.
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME (UNCONFIRMED)
Roberto Luongo (4-3-0, 3.07 GAA, .902 SV%) vs. Jaroslav Halak (8-3-2, 2.06 GAA, .936 SV%)
If he’s cleared to play, Luongo will make his first start for the Panthers since Nov. 23. The 39-year-old veteran was fantastic during his fist four starts of the season, starting a perfect 4-0-0 with a .951 save percentage. In the following three games, however, he allowed 16 goals over three straight losses. In his career against Boston, he is 16-16-5 with a .926 save percentage and four shutouts.
After serving as Tuukka Rask’s backup the last two games, Halak is likely to start for the Bruins in Sunrise. The 33-year-old veteran has looked very sharp while leading Boston to wins in four of his last six starts, allowing just one goal in four of those contests. At 5-on-5 play this season, Halak’s .952 save percentage is tied for second in the NHL among regular goaltenders. In 16 career games against Florida, he’s gone 10-4-2 with a .927 save percentage and two shutouts.
PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Mike Hoffman
Evgenii Dadonov – Jared McCann – Frank Vatrano
Dryden Hunt – Nick Bjugstad – Troy Brouwer
Micheal Haley – Juho Lammikko – Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle – Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson – Mark Pysyk
Bogdan Kiselevich – MacKenzie Weegar
Scratches: Alexander Petrovic, Denis Malgin
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Jamie McGinn (back), Vincent Trocheck (ankle)
– Dec. 4: G Michael Hutchinson was re-assigned to Springfield (AHL).
– Nov. 24: G Michael Hutchinson was recalled from Springfield (AHL).
– Nov. 22: C Vincent Trocheck was placed on the Injured Reserve list.
– Nov. 22: F Maxim Mamin was loaned to CSKA Moscow (KHL).
– Nov. 21: F Denis Malgin was recalled from Springfield (AHL).
– 50/50 Raffle (digital tickets HERE)
– Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Takeover Night
BITE OF BB&T CENTER
– Cheeseburger Combo for $12 outside sections 105, 130 ,305, 319 and 330
HOW TO WATCH
When: Tuesday, Dec. 4, 7:00 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center – Sunrise, FL
TV: Fox Sports Florida
Florida Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)