PREVEIW: Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators drop puck on two-game set

Feb 17, 2021; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) reacts during a game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

As Florida prepares to visit Nashville for the first time Thursday night, the Panthers will keep trying to do what has put them near the top of the Central Division — collect points.

Florida opens a five-game road trip with the first of two in the Music City against the Predators, who are wrapping up five straight at home. The homestand will conclude in a Saturday afternoon match.

Florida hasn’t been winning games lately — dropping its last two at home to Carolina after regulation — but the Panthers’ determination to rally late and their consistency in earning points has pleased coach Joel Quenneville.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Panthers, check out #FlaPanthers rumors, rankings, and news here.

“There’s some good things to take out of the way we’re playing,” Quenneville said after the Hurricanes beat Florida 3-2 in overtime Monday. “We’re competing and getting points game in, game out.

“We’re doing the right things. You can’t complain when you’re getting points.”

Trailing after 40 minutes in each of their last three games, the Panthers have stepped up the pace and created impressive late rallies to either win or force overtime — earning four points despite going 1-0-2.

On Saturday, the Panthers rebounded from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 in the third period but lost 3-2 in the shootout. They appeared to have victory in hand Monday, but former Florida fan favorite Vincent Trocheck tied it with 1:33 remaining.

Thursday against Dallas, the Comeback Cats erased the Stars’ 2-0 lead by scoring three times in 3 minutes, 11 seconds to claim a 3-2 victory.

Captain Aleksander Barkov played in his 500th game Monday, and goalie Chris Driedger started for the sixth time in Florida’s last nine games (5-2-2) ahead of Sergei Bobrovsky, who will be back in the blue paint Thursday.

Quenneville said Wednesday that top-line winger Anthony Duclair (lower body) and Gustav Forsling (undisclosed) are on the trip, with the speedy defenseman expected in for the opener. But fellow blueliners Markus Nutivaara and Noah Juulsen are still on injured reserve.

Forgive the Predators if they don’t send a sympathy card to the Panthers anytime soon.

Nashville provided updates Tuesday on three players it will have a hard time replacing, putting the pressure on the Predators’ reserves to step in and provide a spark as the club tries to gain ground in the standings.

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Center Ryan Johansen was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list. Forward Luke Kunin (lower body, two to four weeks) and defenseman Ryan Ellis (upper body, four to six weeks) also landed on the IR.

Adding to their injury woes, starting goalie Juuse Saros left after the first period following helmet-to-helmet contact with Carolina’s Nino Niederreiter.

Niederreiter was fined the maximum $5,000 on Wednesday for the excessively physical goalie interference.

“The ref called a penalty (on Niederreiter). It was a hit to the head,” Predators coach John Hynes said Tuesday night. “What we all saw was what happened.”

Saros was not at practice Wednesday, and Pekka Rinne and Kasimir Kaskisuo tended the nets.

The Predators and Panthers have split their two games — both in Florida — with Nashville scoring half a dozen times in 41 shots against Bobrovsky to finally win 6-5 on Filip Forsberg’s overtime winner on Feb. 4.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Predators, check out #ForSmashville rumors, rankings, and news here.

Quenneville’s club won 2-1 the following day behind Driedger’s 24-save performance and tallies by Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.

–Field Level Media