Flames visit Panthers looking to get back on rise

NHL Hockey
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The Calgary Flames will conclude what could’ve been an exceptional five-game road trip on Sunday afternoon against the slumping Florida Panthers.

Calgary started the trip with a 4-2 win at the Detroit Red Wings before knocking off a Stanley Cup contender, the Boston Bruins, 5-2.

But, on Thursday, the Flames gave up a tying goal in heartbreaking fashion — with just 0.1 seconds left — and then lost 4-3 in overtime to the Nashville Predators. And, on Saturday, the Flames dropped another 4-3 affair, this one to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The tally for Calgary on this trip so far is 2-1-1, and — despite the two consecutive disappointments — the Flames are optimistic now that they are at virtually full health. Captain Mark Giordano, the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenseman, returned from a hamstring injury on Thursday. Calgary’s emotional engine, Giordano eats minutes and plays on both the power play and penalty kill.

Calgary’s other standouts include wingers Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk and centers Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund.

Tkachuk, the sixth overall player drafted in 2016, leads Calgary in points (56). He’s the youngest player in this group at age 22, and he plays a heavy game.

Lindholm, who scored his 28th goal of the season on Saturday, has found the back of the net more often than any other Flames player.

Gaudreau, the New Jersey-born star, set career highs last season in goals (36) and assists (63), but he has not been as prolific this season. He has 54 points in 66 games.

Flames interim coach Geoff Ward said he has full confidence in Gaudreau and instead offered the following critique on Monahan:

“When ‘Monny’ is a shoot-first guy — instead of looking for that extra pass — he’s at his best.”

Indeed, Monahan scored again on Saturday — his 22nd of the season. The sixth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Monahan, 25, has scored more than 20 goals in each of his seven seasons in the league.

Meanwhile, the Panthers will enter Sunday’s game coming off two straight defeats, including a 3-2 shootout home loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. It was Florida’s fourth loss in its past five games.

In addition, it was Florida’s sixth straight home loss.

“It’s been a tough post-All-Star break for us,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve got to recapture that (winning) feeling. Winning is what it’s all about, and there’s still a lot of hockey left.”

The Panthers got goals from Mike Hoffman and Mike Matheson against Chicago. They also got 27 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky.

Hoffman has a goal in five straight games and leads the Panthers with 27 this season. Matheson, a defenseman, has eight goals, tying his total from last season, when he was two short of his career high. And Bobrovsky has lost three of his past four games.

Of his goals streak, Hoffman said: “I’m trying to do what I can to help the team win. Anytime you can get on the board is a bonus.”

Bobrovsky, who has allowed 12 goals in his past four games, will likely have to play better if the Panthers are to beat Calgary.

Even so, the Panthers profess their confidence in their $70-million goalie, who signed a seven-year contract in July.

“(Bobrovsky) has been playing rock solid during this last stretch,” Matheson said. “That’s what we need. He’s one of the best goalies in the league.”

–Field Level Media

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