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Florida Panthers GameDay

GameDay No. 68: Lines, Betting Odds for Canadiens at Panthers

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Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice meets the media on Thursday morning before his team takes on the Montreal Canadiens in Sunrise. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

SUNRISE — For seemingly the first time all season, the Florida Panthers will have to shake off a bit of rust when they take on the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

After extending their point streak to four games with an overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, the Panthers had the second-most games played in the league behind the New York Islanders.

Then they had four days off.

Coach Paul Maurice has had his gripes with his team’s schedule in the past — specifically during a long road stretch in December and January — but there is not much to complain about now.

“Nobody usually gets this block of time in March and we needed it even with a thin schedule,” Maurice said.

”You’ve always got some guys with some lingering things that we’ve been able to clean up a little bit and we’ve been able to push them hard while also giving them a little recovery time.”

After dealing with a ton of injuries early in the season, the Panthers have come out of the other side of the All-Star break one of the healthiest teams in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

If not the healthiest.

With Anthony Duclair back in the lineup for his seventh game since returning from an offseason Achilles tear, that rings truer than ever.

Maurice found the perfect combination for the second line while Sasha Barkov was dealing with injuries but have not been able to find the right linemates for him.

Duclair — someone Barkov is very familiar and comfortable playing with — returning makes assembling that top line much easier for him.

Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett developed this really good chemistry and Barkov doesn’t really need him there so now we’ve been able to build two lines,” Maurice said.

”Duclair comes back and that was kind of the missing piece.”

With the number of off days the Panthers have had and the amount of care they put towards Duclair’s recovery, he has not missed any practices or games due to a setback related to the injury.

Those off days have also changed the landscape of where they sit in the playoff race.

For much of the last few weeks, the rest of the field had games in hand on Florida and they had to sit and watch, hoping for losses.

While they were away, that has been the case for the wide majority of the teams they are competing for a spot against.

They now have the most points and the least amount of games played out of all of the teams sitting outside of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

All they have to do now is take care of their own business while they chase down the New York Islanders, who sit five points up with three more games played, for a ticket to the postseason.

PANTHERS ON DECK

MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP

27 Eetu Luostarinen // 16 Sasha Barkov // 10 Anthony Duclair

23 Carter Verhaeghe // 9 Sam Bennett // 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

29 Mack Guzda

Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald

Injured: Givani Smith (LTIR-face), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion)

PROJECTED MONTREAL CANADIENS LINEUP

49 Rafael Harvey-Pinard // 14 Nick Suzuki // 56 Jesse Ylonen

17 Josh Anderson // 27 Jonathan Drouin // 25 Denis Gurianov

68 Mike Hoffman // 60 Alex Belzile // 32 Rem Pitlick

55 Michael Pezzetta // 67 Chris Tierney // 90 Anthony Richard

8 Michael Matheson // 26 Jonathan Kovacevic

44 Joel Edmunson // 52 Justin Barron

21 Kaiden Guhle // 58 David Savard

34 Jake Allen

35 Samuel Montembeault

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