Using their 4-3 overtime victory over Toronto on Saturday in Sunrise as a launching point, the Panthers (13-13-6) went into Buffalo and toppled the Sabres on Tuesday, scoring four goals in the third period to erase a 2-1 deficit and eventually pick up two pivotal points in the standings.
“We’ve dealt with the momentum changes, what we’ve been talking about all year,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said when asked to pinpoint the reason for his team’s turnaround. “We’ve had some composure; special teams have been good.”
“But more than anything, I think it’s the intangibles. We’ve got guys playing hard, competing, blocking shots, taking hits to make plays, things like that… those are the things we’ve been talking about and concentrating on. We’re seeing a little bit of results now.”
Evgenii Dadonov scored twice for the Panthers in Buffalo, including his second career penalty shot goal in the third period for what would go on to stand as the game winner. The 29-year-old forward has been on a tear as of late, posting six goals and 14 points over his last 11 games.
At 5-foot-11 and 185-pounds, Dadonov leads Florida with 16 goals this season.
“He’s a guy that we ask a lot of,” Boughner said of Dadonov. “Very unselfish. He’s been taken off that big line to try and help the rest of the team. He’s never made any qualms about it. He just goes about his work. He’s maintenance free and he works hard. You can see it in his game. For a small guy, he wins a lot of pucks battles… he’s a big-time player for us.”
As one of three Panthers producing at better than a point-per-game clip this season, Dadonov joins the likes of Aleksander Barkov (33 points), Jonathan Huberdeau (40), Mike Hoffman (31) and Keith Yandle (30) as the core group of players fueling the team’s 10th-ranked offense.
Barkov leads the team with four goals during their current two-game winning streak, including his first career hat trick against Toronto on Saturday. The NHL’s leader in average ice time among forwards this season, he skated a season-high 27:42 in that game against the Leafs.
“To me, he’s the best two-way player in the game,” Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo said. “He’s smart, especially considering his age. To have a level of maturity already as a two-way player, you don’t see that very often in the NHL anymore. We all know what we have in him in this locker room… we all cherish him. We wish he could play 60 minutes instead of 30.”
A contender for both the Lady Byng and Selke Trophies, Barkov has drawn a league-high 25 penalties without committing a single infraction of his own so far this season. What makes that stat even more impressive, however, is that he ranks second in the league with 52 takeaways.
“Of course nobody wants to take penalties, and nobody wants to sit in the penalty box,” Barkov said. “I just try to play smart. I know when they’re going to call the hooking, tripping or anything. I just try to not take any penalties.”
The Maple Leafs (22-10-2) are returning home after concluding a five-game road trip with a 7-2 win in New Jersey. Despite going 2-2-1 on their trek, Toronto holds second place in the Atlantic Division and will play nine of its next 11 games on home ice, where they have gone 9-5-1.
Mitch Marner, who scored twice on Saturday at BB&T Center, leads the team with 44 points.
“We just played them, and they beat us,” Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. “We didn’t touch the puck enough for two periods. They played harder than we did. I think that’s one message. The second message is Barkov was a star. He won faceoffs, dominated defensively, offensively. Their special teams was better than ours.”
— Keith Yandle ranks first among Panthers defensemen in points (30) and assists (25), while also leading the NHL in power-play points (21). The 32-year-old has also tallied 14 points (one goal, 13 assists), including 12 on the power play, over his last 16 games.
— Aaron Ekblad ranks first among Florida’s defenseman and tied for fourth among all NHL blueliners with seven goals. With just two more goals, the 22-year-old will surpass Robert Svehla (61) for first place on the franchise’s all-time goals list by a defenseman.
— Mike Hoffman is tied for second on the Panthers in goals (15) and has notched eight points (three goals, five assists) over his last six games. The 29-year-old also leads the team with 113 shots, registering at least one shot on goal in 31 of 32 games so far this season.
— Since Nov. 24, Jonathan Huberdeau ranks tied for first in the NHL with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) over 12 games. In that span, he’s registered multiple points in 10 of 12 games. The 25-year-old forward leads the Panthers with 40 points (nine goals, 31 assists) this season.
— Florida’s penalty kill ranks third in the NHL since Nov. 24, successfully killing off 29 of 32 (90.6 percent) opposing power plays.
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME
Roberto Luongo (7-5-1, 2.94 GAA, .906 SV%) vs. Frederik Andersen (18-9-1, 2.53 GAA, .923 SV%)
Luongo will make his third straight start for the Panthers after stopping 30 of 32 shots during Tuesday’s 5-2 win in Buffalo. The 39-year-old made 29 saves during Saturday’s win against Toronto in Sunrise and was described as a “shoo-in” for the Hall of Fame by Leafs coach Mike Babcock after today’s morning skate. In his career against Toronto, he owns a 23-11-3 record with a 2.23 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and two shutouts.
Andersen enters tonight’s matchup having lost of his last five starts. That said, the 29-year-old stopped 27 of 29 shots to help lead Toronto to a 7-2 win in New Jersey on Tuesday. Against the Panthers on Saturday, he surrendered four goals on 33 shots. In his career against Florida, he owns a 7-3-2 record with a 2.30 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and one shutout.
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Mike Hoffman
Frank Vatrano – Henrik Borgstrom – Evgenii Dadonov
Troy Brouwer – Jared McCann – Colton Sceviour
Micheal Haley – Juho Lammikko – Jayce Hawryluk
Keith Yandle – Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson – Mark Pysyk
Alexander Petrovic – MacKenzie Weegar
Scratches: Bogdan Kiselevich, Denis Malgin, Nick Bjugstad (upper body)
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Jamie McGinn (back), Vincent Trocheck (ankle)
– Dec. 15: F Henrik Borgstrom and F Jayce Hawryluk were recalled from Springfield (AHL).
– Dec. 15: F Anthony Greco and F Dryden Hunt were returned to Springfield (AHL).
– Dec. 11: F Anthony Greco was recalled from Springfield (AHL).
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, Dec. 20, 7:00 p.m.
Where: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto, ON
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)
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 have drink specials and giveaways for today’s game, visit the official “Territory on Tap” page!
There is also a special watch party at Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park tonight.