The Florida Panthers, just off the longest homestand in franchise history, finally hit the road on Saturday night as they visit the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes.
Florida ended its 5-4-0 homestand on a high note as Noel Acciari scored his second straight hat trick, leading the Panthers to a 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars on Friday night.
“I’m so happy for Noel,” teammate Jonathan Huberdeau said of Acciari, who completed his hat trick on a short-handed penalty shot. “We were so hoping he was going to score, and it happened. He has two hat tricks — impressive. I don’t even have one yet.”
Carolina, which has won three straight games and six of seven (6-0-1), has a dynamite goalie duo of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek.
Reimer, who played three seasons for the Panthers from 2016 until he was traded to Carolina in June 2019, is 8-5-0 with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage. He beat the host Panthers 6-3 on Oct. 8, making 47 saves.
Mrazek is 14-6-2 with a 2.54 GAA and a .906 save percentage. Mrazek beat the visiting Panthers 4-2 on Nov. 23, making 21 saves.
“It’s nice that we’ve got this one-two punch,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “You don’t have to ride just one guy. We have a fresh guy every night, and that’s important in today’s game.”
The Panthers are going with a different approach. Coach Joel Quenneville has given veteran goalie Sergei Bobrovsky seven straight starts.
Bobrovsky, who allowed seven goals in his two losses to Carolina this season, possibly could sit on Saturday. Quenneville may choose to go with backup Chris Driedger, who has played just two games this season since being recalled from the American Hockey League.
Driedger, 25, is 1-1-0 with a 1.53 GAA and a .942 save percentage.
But the biggest story for the Panthers right now is Acciari.
Pavel Bure is the only other Panthers player ever to record consecutive hat tricks, managing the feat in February 2001. Acciari, meanwhile, had scored just 23 career goals in five seasons before the start of this week.
Acciari, 28, never had even a two-goal game until Monday night against the Ottawa Senators, when he scored three times in a 6-1 victory. He now has a career-high 11 scores this season.
“I just put pucks on net, and good things happened,” Acciari said.
The unlikely surge started right after Quenneville changed all of his forward lines on Monday, and the new grouping of Acciari, Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck has produced a combined eight goals and 18 points in two games.
Huberdeau said his team will go all out against the Hurricanes and also the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, completing a stretch of three games in four days.
“We’ve got to empty it all,” he said. “We want to go into this (holiday) break the right way.”
To accomplish that goal, the Panthers will have to slow down some hot Hurricanes scorers, including winger Andrei Svechnikov, who leads the team with 36 points, and center Sebastian Aho, who tops the Hurricanes with 21 goals.
Aho, who notched just three goals in 12 October games, has since scored 18 goals in 23 games. He has eight goals and four assists in the past six games, and teammate Teuvo Teravainen has nine assists in that same span.
–Field Level Media