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Matheson Returns as Panthers End Road Trip in Vegas

“It’s always really tough being out and frustrating at the same time,” Matheson said. “I’m going to be pretty excited to be back in there with the guys… [The Knights] come out really hard here, as do most teams in their own building… We have to be ready to come to play.”

In his return, Matheson will saddle up alongside Aaron Ekblad on the team’s top-pairing, which was a combination that had been used in a handful of games prior to his injury. A minutes-eater, he’s registered 20 points while averaging a career-high 21:56 of ice time per game this season.

“I think it’s going to help alleviate some of the matchups problems that we’ve probably had in the last game or so,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “Putting him back with Ekblad; put [Keith Yandle] and [Mark] Pysyk back. Now [Ian McCoshen] and [Josh Brown] get the that assignment for the third and fourth lines, which is good. The minutes he eats is so important for this team.”

The Panthers (28-25-9) are coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday. After taking a 3-2 lead in the third period, the Coyotes scored a shorthanded goal with 6:29 left in regulation to force overtime and an eventual shootout, where Arizona went 3-for-3 to win.

Despite that loss, Florida has gone 7-3-1 in its last 11 games to remain in the playoff hunt.

Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers with 28 goals, needing just two more to surpass the career-high 29 posted during the 2015-16 season with Ottawa and achieve the first 30-goal campaign of his career. He enters tonight’s contest on a four-game point streak (two goals, four assists).

Florida’s depth scorers have also been heating up as of late, with forwards Jamie McGinn and Troy Brouwer registering a combined three goals and three assists over the past three games.

“I’m feeling better every game,” said McGinn, who missed the first 54 games of the season due to back surgery. “It takes a little bit to get your legs into it and stuff. The pace of play is high… It’s a really fast game. That’s what it’s the best level in the world. Every game I feel like my legs are getting better, getting into it, talking more and just trying to help out any way I can.”

The Knights (33-26-5) snapped out of a three-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over Dallas on Tuesday. Acquired on Monday’s trade deadline, forward Mark Stone recorded a game-high six shots on goal to go with three takeaways, two blocked shots and two hits in his Vegas debut against the Stars. Stone, 26, has recorded 28 goals and 62 points in 60 games this season.

“We know they start hard at home,” Boughner said. “They feed off the energy in here and the environment. We’re going to talk about that today. We’ve already started talking about how important it is not to ease into this game, to be ready. A fast team, obviously. They pick up Stone at the deadline, a big, strong, heavy guy to play against… You can’t give any freebies tonight because they’re a tough team to play against at home and come back from.”

In danger of slipping out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Knights have lost 10 of their last 14 games. That being said, they’ve still had success at home, where they’ve gone 18-10-4. In their previous meeting this season, Florida dispatched Vegas 3-1 in Sunrise on Feb. 2.

“They play well at home,” McGinn said. “We’ve got to start on time tonight. We can’t let them dictate the game. We have to come out, have our legs moving, get a net-front presence and play our game. We can’t let them take it to us, and just be ready to go.”

NOTES

— Named the NHL’s “Second Star of the Week” on Monday, Aleksander Barkov has posted 13 points (seven goals, six assists) during his season-high six-game point streak. Florida’s scoring leader with 66 points (26 goals, 40 assists), he also ranks second in the NHL in takeaways (87).

Frank Vatrano leads the Panthers with 19 even-strength goals and has reached new career-highs in goals (20), assists (13) and points (33) this season. The 24-year-old winger, who inked a three-year extension on Monday, also paces the club’s forwards in blocked shots (57).

Jonathan Huberdeau enters tonight’s contest with eight points (four goals, five assists) over his last six games. The 25-year-old winger ranks second on Florida in scoring with 61 points (17 goals, 44 assists) this season, while also pacing the club with 20 multi-point performances.

— Troy Brouwer leads the Panthers with 121 hits, averaging 2.3 hits a game. He enters tonight’s game riding a three-game point streak (one goal, three assists) and posted his first multi-point game of the season on Tuesday in Arizona.

— Florida enters tonight’s game with the third-best power play percentage in the league (26.2).

GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME

Roberto Luongo (14-13-2, 3.09 GAA, .897 SV%) vs. Malcolm Subban (3-6-0, 2.76 GAA, .912 SV%)

Luongo will get the nod in net for the Panthers, making his third appearance in four days. After picking up in the win on Monday in Colorado, an injury to backup James Reimer forced him into Tuesday’s matchup in Arizona. The 39-year-old has gone 6-2-1 in his last 10 games, posting a .909 save percentage in that span. He has never started a game against Vegas in his career.

After yielding the net to Marc-Andre Fleury in each of the last three games, Subban is expected to return to the ice against the Panthers. The 25-year-old backup owns a 3-1-0 record over his last four starts, posting a .949 save percentage in that span. In his career against Florida, he’s gone 1-0-1 with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .864 save percentage.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Mike Hoffman

Frank Vatrano – Vincent TrocheckEvgenii Dadonov

Jayce Hawryluk – Riley Sheahan – Troy Brouwer

Jamie McGinn – Henrik Borgstrom – Dryden Hunt

Defense

Mike Matheson – Aaron Ekblad

Keith YandleMark Pysyk

Ian McCoshen – Josh Brown

Goalies

Roberto Luongo

Samuel Montembeault

Scratches: Denis Malgin (lower body), James Reimer (lower body), MacKenzie Weegar (lower body), Riley Stillman

Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Colton Sceviour (upper body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

– Feb. 28: G Samuel Montembeault was recalled from Springfield (AHL)

– Feb. 25: F Dryden Hunt was recalled from Springfield (AHL)

– Feb. 25: F Cliff Pu was acquired from Carolina in exchange for future considerations

– Feb. 25: F Derick Brassard and a conditional 2020 sixth-round pick were traded to Colorado for a 2020 third-round pick

– Feb. 25: F Jean-Sebastien Dea was acquired from Pittsburgh for D Chris Wideman

– Feb. 25: D Bogdan Kiselevich was traded to Winnipeg for a 2021 seventh-round pick

– Feb. 25: The Panthers signed F Frank Vatrano to a three-year contract extension

HOW TO WATCH

When: Thursday, Feb. 28, 10:00 p.m.

Where: T-Mobile Arena – Las Vegas, NV

TV: Fox Sports Florida (Alternate Channels Below)

Dish: 444

Dish HD: 9514

Dish Hopper: 412-32 DTV

HD: 654-1

AT&T: 721

AT&T HD: 1721

Stream: HERE

Florida Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Watch Party: Thanks to the new “Territory on Tap” program, every road game now offers a chance for a watch party in South Florida! To see which local bars and restaurants will be having drink specials and giveaways for today’s game,visit the official “Territory on Tap” page!

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