PREVIEW: Panthers aim to extend point streak in Vegas

“The main focus is that they’re a really good team,” Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette said of Vegas. “They’ve hit a little bit of a rough spot and they’re desperate right now. It’s a desperate time of year, so we’ve got to expect their best and be ready to go here.”

In first place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 41-13-6, the Panthers rebounded from a shootout loss in Los Angeles to start their West Coast swing with a 3-2 overtime win in San Jose on Tuesday in which Frank Vatrano scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner.

Ending his time with the Panthers on a high note, Vatrano was then traded to the Rangers on Wednesday for a fourth-round pick that the team later packaged with a first-round pick and prospect Ty Smilanic to make a splash and acquire veteran defenseman Ben Chiarot from the Canadians.

“It’s exciting to add him to the group,” Panthers forward Sam Reinhart said of bringing in the 6-foot-3, 234-pound behemoth to man the blue line. “He’s such a presence on the ice. Any time you can add one of those guys and not have to play against them anymore, that’s a bonus.”

A veteran of 469 career regular-season games, Chiarot paced Montreal’s defensemen in goals (7), points (18), shots on goal (96) and average ice time (23:33) over 54 games this season. Last season, he also played a key role in helping the Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup Final.

“They have a great chance of making a nice run,” Chiarot said of joining the Panthers. “I’m definitely hungry to get back there. Once you’ve been on the ice when another team is hoisting the Stanley Cup, it only makes you hungrier to get back there and want that for yourself.”

Due to immigration, Chiarot doesn’t expect to join the team until next week in Montreal.

“I’m really excited to get him,” Brunette said. “I’ve seen him play so much when I was in Minnesota and he was in Winnipeg. Lots of battles. He’s competitive and kind of exactly the type of player that we were looking for. He’s really good defensively, does a lot of good things.”

Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers and ranks second in the NHL in scoring with 84 points, including a league-leading 65 assists. Second on the team in scoring with 60 points, Alexander Barkov You have scored a team-high 26 goals, with nine of those goals coming on the power play.

Sitting out Tuesday’s game because he wasn’t feeling well, Sergei Bobrovsky could potentially return to the crease for the Panthers in Vegas. One of only three goaltenders in the NHL to post 30 wins, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner owns a 30-6-3 record with a .917 save percentage.

If I can’t go, Spencer Knightwho is 4-1-1 over his last six starts, will get the nod.

Once thought to be one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, the Knights suddenly find themselves fighting to stay in the playoff picture after their losing streak reached five games with a 7-3 defeat at Winnipeg on Tuesday to close out a rough five-game road trip.

With starting goaltender Robin Lehner out with an injury, Vegas yielded a season-high seven goals against the Jets. After starting the game, Laurent Brossoit was pulled after stopping just nine of 13 shots he faced, while rookie Logan Thompson stopped seven of 10 shots in relief.

In addition to missing their top netminder, the Knights are also currently missing three of their top forwards in Mark Stone, Reilly Smith and Max Pacioretty. Providing a large chunk of the team’s offense, that trio has combined for 95 points (39 goals, 56 assists) this campaign.

But even without those key players, the offense still packs a punch in the form of Jonathan Marchessault (47 points), Chandler Stephenson (45 points) and Shea Theodore (36 points).

Sitting at 32-26-4 and clinging to a one-point lead over the Stars and Canucks for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference, Vegas, which made the playoffs in each of its first three seasons, has gone 4-10 -1 since Feb. 9 while being outscored 53-33 during that stretch.

In their only previous meeting with Vegas this season, Knight turned aside 24 shots and Sam Bennett scored two goals to guide the Panthers to a 4-1 win at FLA Live Arena on Jan. 27.

“They’re fighting for a playoff spot,” Reinhart said. “They’re going to be a desperate team.”

PANTHERS PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

forwards

Carter Verhaeghe – Alexander Barkov – Maxim Mamin

Jonathan Huberdeau – Sam Bennett – Anthony Duclair

Mason MarchingEetu Luostarinen -Sam Reinhart

Joe ThorntonNoël AcciariPatric Hornqvist

Defensemen

MacKenzie WeegarAaron Eckblad

Gustav ForslingRadko Gudas

petteri lindbohmBrandon Montur

goaltenders

Sergei Bobrovsky

Spencer Knight

WHO’S HOT

Panthers: Aleksander Barkov has 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) over his last 11 games. … Jonathan Huberdeau has 20 points (two goals, 18 assists) over his last 13 games. … Aaron Ekblad has 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) over his last 15 games. … Sam Reinhart has 11 points (five goals, six assists) over his last 10 games.

knights: Jonathan Marchessault has 12 points (five goals, seven assists) over his last 10 games. … Jack Eichel has four points (three goals, one assist) over his last six games. … Alex Pietrangelo has three points (two goals, one assist) over his last three games.

THEY SAID IT

“We were keen on adding specifics – the right person as well as the right position. We did want to target a left shot if it was possible, but it wasn’t as simple as let’s just go find a left D. We wanted to find the right other characteristics that would fit and mesh with our team.” — Panthers general manager Bill Zito on acquiring defenseman Ben Chiarot.

“We’ve had winnable games. It feels like we’ve got to play a perfect game right now. Our goalies have to be dead on, our special teams have to be dead on, our five-on-five has to be dead on for us to win. That’s a big ask for a group.” — Knights head coach Pete DeBoer on the team’s losing streak.

FIVE CATS STATS

– The Panthers lead the NHL with nine shorthanded goals.

– Florida has gone 22-for-25 (88%) on the penalty kill over its last seven games.

– MacKenzie Weegar has recorded a team-high 11 blocked shots over the last two games.

– The Panthers lead the NHL in goals per game (4.10) and shots per game (36.7).

– Brandon Montour paces Florida’s defenseman with six goals on the road.

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

– March 16: D Ben Chiarot acquired from Montreal in exchange for F Ty Smilanic, a 2022 4th-round pick and a 2023 1st-round pick

– March 16: A 2022 4th-round pick acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for F Frank Vatrano

– March 16: D Zachary Uens signed to a three-year, entry-level contract

– March 15: F jonas johansson recalled from Charlotte (AHL)

– March 11: G Spencer Knight recalled from Charlotte (AHL)

– March 11: G Jonas Johansson loaned to Charlotte (AHL) on conditioning assignment

PANTHERS NEWS

Panthers Acquire Defenseman Ben Chiarot from the Montreal Canadiens

Panthers Acquire 2022 Fourth Round Selection from New York Rangers

Territory Talk: Tim Reynolds talks Cats, culture and more!

Panthers Agree to Terms with Defenseman Zachary Uens

Panthers Announce Spring ‘Pucks & Pints’ Beerfest

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Thursday, March 17 at 10:30 pm ET

Where: T-Mobile Arena – Las Vegas, NV

TV & Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+ (Out of Region)

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); SiriusXM App & Streaming 932

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