SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers will, once again, play a must win game without their top two centers — this time against a Nashville Predators team they struggled mightily against two weeks ago.
Sam Bennett (lower-body) and Sasha Barkov (hand) were both ruled out for Thursday night’s clash with the Predators.
Florida will roll with the same lineup they had in their 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday featuring 11 forwards and seven forwards — including Casey Fitzgerald for his second game of the year.
Both of them have been skating in yellow, non-contact sweaters for over a week and are expected to make a return to the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I would like to figure we are going to get our number one and number two centermen back for Pittsburgh,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
”We haven’t had them for a little while so it’s a big trade day for us. We’ve got a whole bunch of guys that are really good players that are gonna hopefully come in and play for us.”
Despite the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals bowing out as sellers near the trade deadline with a point percentage similar to Florida’s, the Panthers still fancy themselves as contenders and feel like they made a big trade deadline acquisition from within in Anthony Duclair.
“I think we are at the point where we can say that we picked up a 30-goal scorer at the trade deadline,” Maurice said.
”We did not have him all year and we are really excited about it. That’s not marketing, that’s just a fact. Duclair is just a real good player to add to your team.”
The Panthers have to be in a serious “win every game” mode at this point of the season. They are three points back of the Penguins for the final wildcard spot with more games played than every other team in the race save for the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals.
That does not change when a team on the other side of the ledger when it comes to trade deadline moves comes to town.
The Predators have sold off multiple major assets after falling seven points out of the wildcard race despite having a handful of games in hand.
”They are going to be motivated but we really need these two points so we are going to come out flying,” Gus Forsling said.
With some young and hungry pieces called up from their AHL team down in Milwaukee over the past few weeks, this team will still be trying to claw its way back into the race despite the departures of Tanner Jeannot, Mattias Ekholm, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niedereitter.
”I think as a group we think we still have a good team here and we want to win games to stay in the hunt of the playoffs,” Tommy Novak said.
”I think it is a big opportunity for the rest of our team that’s still here to show that we’re good players in this league and that we can still compete.”
Novak gave the Panthers fits last time out — scoring two goals in a 7-2 Nashville victory — and remains a player to watch as he continues a run of nine points in his last six games he started that afternoon.
”There’s an unbelievable release on that young man,” Maurice said.
”I think he was playing on the fourth line when we were in there and he has moved up a line every game. He’s got an incredible release so you’ve got to get to the stick before he gets it off.”
The Predators could be without recently-acquired Tyson Barrie tonight, who made the trip to South Florida from Edmonton to join the team this morning.
His equipment bag did not make the trip with him due to a miscue in transit so Nashville is in the process of finding a solution before puck drop.
UPDATE: Barrie’s bag was seen being unloaded along with the rest of Nashville’s equipment as the team was arriving at FLA Live Arena this afternoon.
He is expected to make his Predators debut against the Panthers.
PANTHERS ON DECK
NASHVILLE PREDATORS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Sun, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Panthers favored: Money Line (-165); Puck line (-1.5, +150); Over/Under 6.5 (-125/+105)
- Season Series (Predators lead 1-0): Nashville 7, Florida 3 (Feb. 16)
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 21-13-6, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Pittsburgh at Florida, Saturday, 6 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
19 Matthew Tkachuk // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 10 Anthony Duclair
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 21 Nick Cousins
22 Zac Dalpe // 6 Colin White
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
62 Brandon Montour // 18 Marc Staal
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
4 Casey Fitzgerald
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
34 Alex Lyon
Injured: Givani Smith (LTIR-face), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Sam Bennett (lower body), Sasha Barkov (hand)
PROJECTED NASHVILLE PREDATORS LINEUP
26 Philip Tomasino // 8 Cody Glass // 95 Matt Duchene
44 Kieffer Sherwood // 82 Thomas Novak // 77 Luke Evangelista
13 Yakov Trenin // 10 Colton Sissons // 36 Cole Smith
12 Zach Sanford // 17 Mark Jankowski // John Leonard
59 Roman Josi // 57 Dante Fabbro
27 Ryan McDonagh // 22 Tyson Barrie
3 Jeremey Lauzon // 45 Alexandre Carrier
32 Kevin Lankinen
74 Juuse Saros