Dashing Coyotes look to dispatch Panthers

Field Level Media

The Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers -- each of them with just nine games left on their schedules -- are trying to make that final push for possible playoff berths.

On Thursday night, the Panthers will host the Coyotes in an important game for both teams.

Since Feb. 9, the Coyotes are 13-5-1, giving them a more legit shot at the playoffs as compared to Florida.

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Nine of the Coyotes' wins during that span have come at home, including a 4-3 shootout victory over the Panthers on Feb. 26.

"We want our fans to believe in what we are doing," Coyotes coach Rich Tocchet told AzCentral.com. "I think our fans are coming out and getting louder and louder."

The Panthers, who lost 4-2 to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday to close out a 2-2-0 road trip, want that same kind of rowdy crowd when they return home to face the Coyotes.

Panthers captain/center Aleksander Barkov scored twice against Dallas and leads Florida in goals (32) and points (85).

Barkov, though, took no solace in his performance on Tuesday.

"We made a couple of bad mistakes that led to goals," Barkov said of the loss to Dallas. "We need to play better defensively."

Counting overtime/shootout losses, the Panthers have essentially been a .500 team at home this season (18-12-6).

Overall, the Panthers are 32-29-12, which is good for 76 points. The best they can hope for -- even with a highly improbable 9-0-0 finish to the regular season -- would be 94 points, and that probably won't get them a ticket to the playoffs.

"You never want to give up," said Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who is second on the team with 79 points.

"That's probably not enough to get into the playoffs, especially in the Eastern Conference. But we have to play for pride and for each other. It's disappointing, but we have to play hard until the end."

After being the worst team in the Western Conference in 2017-2018, Arizona has had a strong bounce-back season at 36-31-6, good for 78 points. The Coyotes hold a slight edge over the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.

Hockey Reference gives Arizona a 46.8-percent chance to make the playoffs. The Panthers are being given less than a one-percent chance to qualify (0.9).

Panthers coach Bob Boughner, who seems resigned to his fate, spoke late Tuesday night about the miscues made against Dallas, including a giveaway by Florida defenseman Mike Matheson.

"It was a turnover," Boughner said of the goal that gave Dallas a 3-2 lead, "and the result was in the back of our net. That's the way the bounces have been going for us lately."

As of late, the Panthers have been riding rookie goalie Sam Montembeault, who is 4-2-1 in seven starts this season. The 22-year-old has a team-best 2.58 goals-against average and a team-best .903 save percentage. However, he has lost two straight games and has allowed three goals in each of his past three starts.

Boughner could also call on either of his veteran goalies -- Roberto Luongo or James Reimer -- against the Coyotes.

Luongo, who turns 40 next month and is a certain Hall of Famer, has lost five straight games and hasn't played since March 7 as the Panthers endeavor to find out what they have in Montembeault.

Luongo has a 3.16 GAA, his highest since his rookie season of 1999-2000.

Reimer, 31, has lost two straight starts and hasn't played since Feb. 26. He has a 3.02 GAA, his highest since 2014-2015.

Arizona is expected to start Darcy Kuemper, who beat the Panthers last month. Kuemper, 28, is 24-17-6 this season with a 2.48 GAA and a .920 save percentage.

Playing his seventh NHL season for his third franchise, Kuemper has found his groove, setting personal records for most games played (47) and most wins.

--Field Level Media

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