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Florida (35-26-8)        
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5:30 PM PT6:30 PM MT7:30 PM CT8:30 PM ET0:30 GMT8:30 5:30 PM MST6:30 PM CST7:30 PM EST4:30 UAE (+1)20:30 ET21:30 BRT, March 12, 2020
American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas

Panthers carry momentum into date with Stars

The Dallas Stars, who have lost six straight games, will play host to the suddenly optimistic Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

Dallas lost 4-2 to the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. The Stars (37-24-8, 82 points) were held scoreless for the first two periods on Tuesday, and only a pair of third-period goals kept them from being shut out for their third straight game.

Stars interim coach Rick Bowness had a mixed message to his team following the loss to the Rangers.

"We're still in a playoff spot, and we can dig ourselves out of this," Bowness said. "But if we don't prepare ourselves properly the day of a game, it's not going to work. If we're not prepared, we're going to be embarrassed like we were for 40 minutes" on Tuesday night.

Only two NHL teams have scored fewer goals this season than the Stars. The same issue existed last season for the Stars, who lost a Game 7 in the second round of the 2019 playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.

The Stars are powered again this season by center Tyler Seguin, who leads the team with 50 points. Winger Jamie Benn is second with 39 points, and second-year defenseman Miro Heiskanen is third with 35.

Heiskanen, who had two assists on Tuesday, is just 20 years old, and he continues to improve. The native of Finland was the third overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, and he had 33 points as a rookie.

In goal, the Stars are expected to start Ben Bishop, who had 23 saves against the Rangers. For the season, he is 21-16-4 with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

Meanwhile, the Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points), who have won two straight games, have something odd happening -- their stars are slumping lately, and their lesser-known players are contributing above expectations.

For example, Panthers captain and 2019 All-Star Aleksander Barkov hasn't scored a goal or dished an assist in six games, his longest drought of the season.

Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers' leading scorer this season and a 2020 All-Star, has just one goal and one assist in his past seven games.

And goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed a seven-year, $70 million contract in July to serve as the Panthers' savior in the nets, hasn't won a game since Feb. 25 and has spent the past three contests on the sidelines due to a lower-body injury.

Yet, even without much help from their superstars of late, the Panthers are still in the playoff hunt because of the fill-ins -- newcomers such as goalie Chris Driedger and forward Aleksi Saarela.

Driedger, who had never started a game prior to this season, is 2-0-1 with a 1.31 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage since Bobrovsky went down. A former third-round pick of the Ottawa Senators, Driedger has been the Panthers' best goalie this season, at least according to the statistics: 7-2-1, with an impressive 2.05 GAA and a .938 save percentage.

"I can't say enough good things about (Driedger)," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said after his goalie's 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

Saarela, a 23-year-old former third-round pick of the New York Rangers, has outplayed Barkov by the numbers in the past six games, posting two goals and two assists.

Said Quenneville: "(Saarela) has earned his opportunity."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 12, 2020

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