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The Morning Skate: Driedger gets Game 2 start for Panthers vs. Lightning

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Chris Driedger will be in net for the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night as he replaces Sergei Bobrovsky for Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. // Photo by Roger Topalian, 21st Century Photography (561) 488-0000

The Florida Panthers will start a goalie who had the fifth-best save percentage as well as goals-against average in the NHL during the regular season in Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night. Yeah, that’s Chris Driedger.

Driedger’s play during the season, and not necessarily Sergei Bobrovsky’s performance in the series opener, is a big reason why Driedger gets the start on Tuesday.

Looking at the stats, Driedger has played at an elite level.

He had terrific stats last season, but in only playing 12 games, it was obviously a much smaller sample size.

This season, Dreidger played in 23 of Florida’s 56 games — that’s 41 percent of the starts. If not for what is believed to be a groin injury late in the season (and the signing of Spencer Knight), he likely would have more starts than that.

Driedger, without a doubt, deserves to play in these playoffs.

The Panthers are not waiting to give him the chance.

And, it is coming on Driedger’s 27th birthday. Nice present.

As Quenneville noted, Driedger did not play in the Toronto postseason although they did consider him.

“Driedge has been in a position, even last year, he was in consideration,” Joel Quenneville said after Tuesday’s morning skate at BB&T Center. “He has done everything we would want and it was an opportunity to see how it would play out in the playoffs. We were going to take it one game at a time and he hasn’t had the chance here in two years and we felt this was the right time to give him the opportunity. It is based on the performance and the opportunity.”

Said Alex Wennberg: “We obviously have two really good goalies. Right now, it’s his opportunity and we’re excited for him.”

HELLO, JUHO

With Sam Bennett sitting this one out after being suspended for his boarding of Blake Coleman in the third period of Game 1, the Panthers are sliding their centers up.

Wennberg replaces Bennett on Florida’s second line (and on the top power play unit) with Noel Acciari centering Frank Vatrano and Patric Hornqvist.

Juho Lammikko makes his NHL playoff debut tonight as the center of the fourth line.

He had a nice game in the regular season finale, scoring a nice wraparound goal on Andrei Vasilevskiy.

”When Bennett missed a game or two (at the end of the season) we moved Wenny up into that spot so there’s a little familiarity and Wenny and Huberdeau basically played the whole year together,” Quenneville said.

RATS! Florida Panthers could get penalty if rubber rats are thrown

Speaking of Bennett, the Panthers weren’t very surprised he got suspended. Quenneville said they knew on Sunday night it was likely.

Bennett was on the ice for practice Tuesday.

”It is what it is,” Quenneville said. “We are going to live with it and learn from it and move forward. They raised our antenna up right after the game. We looked at it and decided to let them do their thing. We’ll go from there.”

BOB FOR CLANCY

Bobrovsky was named the Panthers’ nominee for the King Clancy Trophy which goes to “the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”

You may remember when I worked for The Athletic that I wrote about Bobrovsky taking the lead on making sure the Panthers’ part-time employees were going to get paid when the 2019-20 season was put on pause, making the initial pledge of $100,000 the day the team landed from Dallas.

Bobrovsky also teamed up with Artemi Panarin and Semyon Varlamov in buying protective masks when those were in such short supply and donated them to local health care workers during the height of the pandemic.

The winner will be chosen by a committee of senior NHL executives led by commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

POWER PLAY POISON

The Lightning has traditionally had one of the best power play units in the league and that was on full display Sunday when Tampa Bay — led by Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point — scored on three of its four chances.

”They have all the options you want,” Quenneville said. “The patience and the options, you know, pick your poison. These guys are the best at it and that’s why we can’t take penalties.”

With Kucherov and Stamkos back from a long absence, the Panthers looked like they were caught by surprise.

”It was a different look than we had seen all season,” Quenneville said. “We watched a lot … stay out of the box, there was a lot of special team time in that game. Their power play is lethal. They have so many different options and looks and some of the great playmakers and deceiving playmakers as well.”

Q COOL WITH KUCH

Although many are upset with the Lightning going around the salary cap by having Kucherov’s money on long-term injured reserve all season (there’s a suspicion he could have been able to play weeks ago), Quenneville says it is not a big deal to him.

”I’m not complaining. That’s the way it is and that’s the rules,” he said. “Deal with it. He was a big part of their team and he has been around them. That’s where it’s at. No complaint here.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1

GAME 2: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS

TAMPA BAY LEADS BEST-OF-7 SERIES 1-0

  • When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise
  • Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE
  • Regular season series: Florida won 5-2-1
  • TV: CNBC, BS-FLA
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM

 

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