SUNRISE — Prior to this season, few would say the Florida Panthers arena in Sunrise was a tough place to play, but it has proved to be just that for visitors of late. The Columbus Blue Jackets are going to try to spoil the party on Saturday.
With Friday’s 7-1 win over Dallas, the Panthers improved to a league-best 20-3 record on home ice.
The Panthers are on quite a run, winning seven of eight and their past six at home. Florida has also snagged 15 of the available 16 points since returning from the holiday break.
“I think we take a lot of pride in making this a hard place for teams to come in and try to get points,’’ Sam Bennett said Friday night after getting his second hat trick of the season.
“We have done a heck of a job all year at home. We love playing here, we love playing in front of our fans and we love making it tough on our opponents. So we are going to try to do it all year long.”
Florida came into Friday with the league’s No. 2 scoring offense on home ice (4.5 goals per night) with only Colorado and Minnesota averaging over four home goals per game.
The Panthers are also one of four teams (Colorado, St. Louis and Dallas) to get more than 80 percent of available home points so far this season.
Florida now has 20 home wins in 23 games, the fewest games required to reach 20 home wins in club history.
The Panthers have won five more home games than the next-closest club (St. Louis).
Only three NHL teams in the past 65 years hit 20 home wins in fewer games, the last being Anaheim in 2013-14. Those Ducks did so in 22 games.
“I think they’ve taken it to another level here this year,’’ coach Andrew Brunette said.
“I think we built a lot of confidence last year, especially at home. They have fun with this crowd. It’s a fun place to play and we play an exciting brand of hockey. I feel the players are feeding off the crowd, the crowd is feeding off the players, and I think we feel good.
“We want to bring an identity that South Florida is going to be a real hard place for teams to come in, and they better be ready to play because we play really well at home. I’m proud of the way we’ve played and we’re continuing to build it here night in, night out, and that’s kind of the game plan.”
The Blue Jackets came to town feeling pretty good about things.
Although Columbus is all but certain to miss the playoffs this season — the Jackets came into Friday nine points back of Boston for the final Wild Card slot — it has been able to pull off some nice wins.
Thursday, the Jackets came into Raleigh with losses in four of five but left Carolina with a resounding 6-0 win as Elvis Merzlikins got his second shutout of the season.
This is the first time Columbus and Florida are playing this season but the reunion days are all but over.
The Blue Jackets have had so much turnover in the past few years, only a handful of players (Zach Werenski, Boone Jenner and Oliver Bjorkstrand among them) played with Sergei Bobrovsky in central Ohio.
Bobrovsky would usually get the night off after making 29 saves on Friday.
But considering Spencer Knight came off the Covid list Friday, he may just get the start.
UPDATE: Bobrovsky will start on Saturday night.
“Confidence is growing,’’ Anthony Duclair said. “All four lines, all the D, are stepping up at the right moments. Bob, can’t forget about Bob; he’s making key saves at key moments at the beginning of the game that a couple bounces could go the other way, so it starts with Bob in net, and we build confidence from there out.
“It’s really fun to be playing right now, especially at home.”
— The Panthers made a couple of roster moves following Friday’s practice.
Not only was goalie Evan Fitzpatrick signed to a one-year, two-way deal, but Florida also sent Owen Tippett and Aleksi Heponiemi to AHL Charlotte.
Those two may be in Charlotte’s lineup Saturday night.
— Columbus defenseman Andrew Peeke, who hails from Parkland, will be back in his home arena come Saturday night.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560, SiriusXM
- NHL Betting Odds from FanDuel: Florida favored (Puck Line -1.5 -110) — (Money Line -280) — Over/Under 6.5 (-124/+104)
- Last season: Florida won 7-0-1
- All-time regular season series: Columbus leads 24-13-4, 0 ties
- This season: @Dallas 6, Florida 5 (SO), Jan 6
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
11 Jonathan Huberdeau // 8 Sam Bennett // 10 Anthony Duclair
77 Frank Vatrano // 15 Anton Lundell // 98 Maxim Mamin
94 Ryan Lomberg // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 70 Patric Hornqvist
52 MacKenzie Weegar // 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gus Forsling // 7 Radko Gudas
4 Olli Juolevi // 62 Brandon Montour
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
30 Spencer Knight
Scratched: Lucas Carlsson, Joe Thornton, Mason Marchment
Taxi squad: Evan Fitzpatrick
Injured: Noel Acciari (LTIR), Markus Nutivaara (LTIR)
Covid Protocol: Jonas Johansson
To Charlotte: Aleksi Heponiemi, Owen Tippett
PROJECTED COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS LINEUP
29 Patrik Laine // 38 Boone Jenner // 14 Gustav Nyquist
16 Max Domi // 34 Cole Sillinger // 28 Oliver Bjorkstrand
42 Alexandre Texier // 96 Jack Roslovic // 52 Emil Bemstrom
50 Eric Robinson // 7 Sean Kuraly // 59 Yegor Chinakhov
8 Zach Werenski // 27 Adam Boqvist
44 Vladislav Gavrikov // 2 Andrew Peeke
22 Jake Bean // 46 Dean Kukan
90 Elvis Merzlikins
70 Joonas Korpisalo
Blue Jackets lineup courtesy Columbus Dispatch.com