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Panthers visit Chicago hoping to head into holiday on high note

The Panthers (14-14-6) are coming off a tight 2-1 win in Detroit on Saturday afternoon in which goaltender Roberto Luongo made 33 saves – including a whopping 16 in the third period alone – to lead Florida to its third win in its last four games while earning the game’s first-star honors.

“It’s a big one tomorrow,” said Luongo, who is expected to back up James Reimer in Chicago. “I think we want to head into the break in a good mood, feeling good about our club. We’ve just got to come back tomorrow and have the same type of effort.”

Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov provided Luongo with the only goal support he would need against the Red Wings, scoring their 16th and 17th goals of the season, respectively, in the first period. Jonathan Huberdeau assisted on both tallies for his 16th multi-point game of the season.

Since Nov. 24, Huberdeau ranks third in the NHL with 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) over 13 games. In that span, the 25-year-old winger has registered multiple points in 11 of 14 contests. An All-Star candidate, he leads the Panthers with 42 points (nine goals, 33 assists) this season.

“I loved Huby’s game,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “We challenged the leadership be ready today. We challenged our best players to be better than theirs, and I thought Huby was one of the best… They stuck to the game plan, and I give Huby a lot of credit for that.”

When it comes to points, however, Huberdeau is more concerned with those in the standings. “It was good to come back and give this effort,” he said after Saturday’s win.

“It’s back-to-back and we have to be ready for tomorrow. It’s just before Christmas and it’s going to be much better if we win tomorrow and get some rest and come back for the second half.”

The Panthers haven’t seen the Blackhawks since a heartbreaker on Nov. 24 in Sunrise in which Chicago tied the game with 1.8 seconds left in regulation before Erik Gustafsson scored at 2:32 of overtime to hand Florida a 5-4 loss. In that game, Boughner said his team “beat themselves.”

Florida last beat Chicago (13-19-6) on March 25, 2017 – a 7-0 win at BB&T Center.

In their rematch, the Panthers will face a Chicago team that stretched its winning streak to a season-long three games with a 2-1 win in Colorado on Friday. Patrick Kane leads the team with two goals and five points during that span, while Gustafsson has also chipped in two goals.

Overall, Kane leads the Blackhawks in both goals (17) and points (43) this season.

“We’re turning the tide where we can expect the same effort, we can expect the same system and we know what all five guys are doing on the ice,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews told the Chicago Tribune. “Just less thinking and more doing, more playing and letting things be natural out there.”

The Panthers own a 3-0-2 record in the second game of back-to-back sets this season.

NOTES

— Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov has compiled 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) over his last 23 games. The 23-year-old center ranks second on the team in points (35) and second in goals points (15). He also averages the most ice time per game among NHL forwards (23:00).

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 18 games.

Aaron Ekblad ranks first among Florida’s defenseman and tied for fifth 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.

— Evgenii Dadonov leads the Panthers in goals (17) and even-strength goals (11). Since re-joining the team last season, the 29-year-old Russian import leads Florida in goals (45), even-strength goals (32) and game-winning goals (9).

— Panthers center Jared McCann is expected to suit up in his 200th NHL game tonight.

— The Panthers have scored on the power play in 22 of their last 25 games.

GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME (UNCONFIRMED)

James Reimer (5-7-3, 3.48 GAA, .888 SV%) vs. Cam Ward (6-5-4, 3.82 GAA, .890 SV%)

Reimer is expected to make his first start for the Panthers since Dec. 13. The 30-year-old backup briefly saw action during Thursday’s 6-1 loss in Toronto, making three saves over a span of 14:19 after Luongo was pulled to rest up for the next game. In his career against the Blackhawks, he owns a 2-4-2 record with a .886 save percentage and one shutout.

Ward will likely get the nod for Chicago as the team continues to deal with the loss of injured starter Corey Crawford. The 34-year-old has won each of his last two starts, allowing just three combined goals in victories over Nashville and Dallas. In his career against the Panthers, he has gone 18-13-3 with a 2.71 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.

PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Evgenii Dadonov

Frank VatranoHenrik Borgstrom – Mike Hoffman

Troy Brouwer – Jared McCann – Denis Malgin

Jayce Hawryluk – Juho Lammikko – Colton Sceviour

Defense

Keith Yandle – Aaron Ekblad

Mike MathesonMacKenzie Weegar

Bogdan KiselevichMark Pysyk

Goalies

James Reimer

Roberto Luongo

Scratches: Alexander Petrovic, Micheal Haley, Nick Bjugstad (upper body)

Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Jamie McGinn (back), Vincent Trocheck (ankle)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

– 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: Sunday, Dec. 23, 7:00 p.m.

Where: United Center – Chicago, IL

TV: Fox Sports Florida (Alternate Channels Below)

DTV: 654-1

AT&T: 72

AT&T HD: 1721

Dish: 440

Dish HD: 9575

Dish Hopper: 412-28

Stream: HERE

Florida Panthers Radio Network: 880 WZAB (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!

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