SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers are hoping to continue their momentum with as close to a full lineup as they had all season against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Florida put on a dominating display against Pittsburgh with its first near-healthy lineup of the season with Sasha Barkov and Sam Bennett returning to play alongside Anthony Duclair for the first time.
With everyone back, the energy in the Panthers locker room has been completely restored.
”They are looking around now and they feel, even outside of the context of the playoff push, that each player on the team can have success,” coach Paul Maurice said.
”It’s not about holding water, It’s about driving the pace of play. So there is that confidence and we now have a bunch of players who — in my mind — are better now than they were in October.”
The Panthers have had a plethora of players step up throughout the season — Eetu Luostarinen has a career-high 15 goals, Eric Staal has come back from a year away from hockey and Carter Verhaeghe is pushing 40 goals — but perhaps none of them fit Maurice’s description better than Brandon Montour.
After playing primarily on Florida’s third pair and second power play unit last year, Montour has stepped up to become the quarterback of their top power play unit and just the sixth Panthers defenseman to hit the 50-point mark.
”I don’t think I ever set goals of numbers in that aspect but I have thought that I could get there for sure,” Montour said.
”Obviously, kudos to the coaches for believing in me and players that can put the puck in the net can also help.”
Montour also became the sixth defenseman to hit the 40-assist mark after a two-assist performance on Saturday.
He has gained a lot of respect from opponents this season and they have reacted accordingly to try to defend him.
”They are playing more physical,” Montour said.
”I think any offensive defenseman or a guy that likes to jump up on the rush, you try to preach to your team those aspects. I know we do that with opposing teams.
”They expect that so there may be some little holdups if I join the rush but for me, personally, I try to pick the right spots where if I’m open, that’s my chance to go.”
With their core back together — and even stronger with guys picking up extra minutes while others were hurt — the Panthers feel like they are primed to continue their late-season playoff push.
”We are not only healthy for the first time,” Maurice said. “I think we are at a level where we are ready to play our best hockey at the most critical time.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Panthers favored: Money Line (-145); Puck line (-1.5, +165); Over/Under 6.5 (-130/+105)
- This season (Vegas leads 1-0): Golden Knights 4, Panthers 2 (Jan. 12)
- Last season: Split 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Vegas leads 6-2-1
- Up Next for the Panthers: Friday vs. Chicago. 7 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 16 Sasha Barkov // 10 Anthony Duclair
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 9 Sam Reinhart // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
94 Ryan Lomberg // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
21 Nick Cousins // 12 Eric Staal // 6 Colin White
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
34 Alex Lyon
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald
Returned to Charlotte: Zac Dalpe, Grigori Denisenko
Injured: Givani Smith (LTIR-face), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion)
PROJECTED VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS LINEUP
49 Ivan Barbashev // 9 Jack Eichel // 81 Jonathan Marchessault
19 Reilly Smith // 71 William Karlsson // 22 Mike Amadio
43 Paul Cotter // 20 Chandler Stephenson // 8 Phil Kessel
21 Brett Howden // 53 Teddy Blueger // 55 Keegan Kolesar
23 Alec Martinez // 7 Alex Pietrangelo
3 Brayden McNabb // 27 Shea Theodore
14 Nic Hague // 2 Zach Whitecloud
33 Adin Hill
32 Jonathan Quick