After beating "Sid The Kid" and "Alexander The Great," the Florida Panthers face their third straight superstar.
The Panthers defeated Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime on Thursday, holding Sidney Crosby without a point. On Saturday, the Panthers overcame Washington 5-4 in another extra session, limiting Alex Ovechkin -- who leads the league in goals -- to one assist.
On Sunday, the Panthers host the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nikita Kucherov.
That means that in four days the Panthers will have arguably faced three of the NHL's top 10 players.
On Saturday, the Panthers gave up a 4-2 lead as the reigning Stanley Cup champion Capitals forced overtime by scoring twice in the third period. However, Florida's Mike Hoffman netted his third overtime goal of the season on a power play to give the Panthers the victory.
Hoffman, acquired in an offseason trade, has 25 goals this season -- 11 on the power play and five game-winners.
"I like the way we're playing," Hoffman said of the Panthers, who have won six of their past eight. "We have to keep accumulating points if we want to get in the playoff picture. We have to focus on the next one."
That next one is against the high-powered Lightning, who top the NHL standings and have won at least 40 games for six straight seasons. Tampa Bay snapped a two-game losing streak on Saturday night with a 5-4 win over the Penguins.
Tampa Bay has won all three matchups against Florida this season, although the Panthers (0-1-2) have managed two points.
Kucherov, who has 22 goals and NHL-highs in assists (59) and points (81) this season, is far from Tampa Bay's only superstar. Defenseman Victor Hedman won his first Norris Trophy last season, and center Steven Stamkos, who has become more of a set-up man for Kucherov, remains elite.
The Panthers counter the Lightning with captain Aleksander Barkov, a sniper in Hoffman and a potent power play. Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle -- tied for the lead league in power-play assists -- is the quarterback.
"We've done a pretty good job," Yandle said of the Florida power play, ranked No. 1 in the NHL since Nov. 1. "But we don't have a lot of room for error (in the standings)."
A key weapon for Tampa Bay against Florida's power play is Anthony Cirelli, one of three NHL players this season with at least four short-handed goals, including one on Saturday.
Both starting goalies may get a rest after playing on Saturday.The Panthers could turn to James Reimer, who has won two of his past three starts, allowing six goals combined. He is 10-9-5 on the season with a 3.07 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
Reimer is 0-0-2 against Tampa Bay this season with a 3.75 GAA and an .883 save percentage.
Tampa Bay is expected to counter with 26-year-old Louis Domingue, who has already had his career year in terms of victories (17-4-0). He also has a 2.95 GAA and a .906 save percentage and is 2-0 against Florida this season (3.41 GAA, .900 save percentage). Overall, he hasn't lost to any team since Nov. 27, going 9-0-0 in that stretch.
It helps having the Lightning's electric offense on his side, which was the case on Saturday when starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed four goals and still got the win.
Meanwhile, Florida starter Roberto Luongo earned the win on Saturday in his 1,000th career start.
"That (1,000 starts) is not something I keep tabs on," said Luongo, who is one win behind Ed Belfour for third place on the NHL's career win list. "I just like that we got our swagger back. We're finding ways to win."
--Field Level Media