NHL: Panthers aim to pick up pace vs. desperate Red Wings

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It promises to be a battle between two good, albeit struggling teams, on Saturday afternoon when the Detroit Red Wings visit the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.

The Panthers (46-22-5, 97 points) have clinched a playoff spot. That happened on Thursday. But there wasn’t much joy in that since Florida also fell for the sixth time in seven games (1-5-1) with a 3-2 setback to the New York Islanders.

Detroit, which has lost three straight games, doesn’t have the luxury of clinching a postseason berth. The Red Wings (36-30-7, 79 points) enter the weekend two points behind the Washington Capitals in the race for the final wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.

The Red Wings have scored just three goals over their past three games and absorbed a 4-0 road loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

“We’re having a tough time finding the back of the net,” said Detroit defenseman Ben Chiarot, who played 20 games for the Panthers in the 2021-22 season.

It didn’t help that Patrick Kane was out on Thursday due to illness. He has three goals in his past four games and 40 points (17 goals, 23 assists) in 41 contests this season.

“We were going to be up against it considering where our lineup was,” Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said.

Aside from Kane, the Red Wings get a large chunk of their offense from Lucas Raymond, Alex DeBrincat and captain Dylan Larkin.

Raymond leads the team in points (60), DeBrincat ranks second (59) and Larkin boasts a club-best 28 goals, including 10 on the power play and two shorthanded.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere leads the team in assists (37) and power-play assists (23).

Both of Detroit’s top goalies are former Panthers: Alex Lyon (18-16-3, 3.07 goals-against average) and James Reimer (9-8-2, 3.03).

Lyon was Florida’s backup last season, going 9-4-2 with a 2.89 GAA. Reimer won 53 games for the Panthers from 2017 to 2019.

In his career against the Panthers, Reimer is 4-6-3 with a 3.24 GAA. Lyon is 1-1-1 with a 3.27 GAA.

Meanwhile, the Panthers — who have qualified for the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight season — are trying to catch the Boston Bruins (99 points) for the Atlantic Division title.

Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov wants to see more effort from his squad.

“We are playing hard,” Barkov said. “But we need to play hard every shift.”

The Panthers’ defense is led by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who shut out the Red Wings on Nov. 2 and again on March 2.

However, Larkin scored on Bobrovsky in overtime as Detroit posted a 3-2 win in Sunrise on Jan. 17.

For the season, Bobrovsky is 32-16-3 with a 2.41 GAA. Since backup goalie Anthony Stolarz got the start on Thursday, Panthers coach Paul Maurice likely will go back to Bobrovsky again on Saturday.

Despite their recent slump, the good news for the Panthers is that they are fully healthy in terms of their top players. Just this week, they got three key players back following absences: defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Gustav Forsling and Barkov up front.

Florida’s Sam Reinhart is having a career year at the perfect time since he will be an unrestricted free agent following this season. He leads the Panthers in goals (51) and points (85). He also leads the NHL in power-play goals (27).

Matthew Tkachuk leads the Panthers in assists (56).

–Field Level Media

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