NHL Network Showcase: 3 Storylines for Panthers vs. Stars

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The Florida Panthers play at the Dallas Stars on Saturday (2 p.m. ET; NHLN, BSSW, BSFL, NHL.TV) in the “NHL Network Showcase presented by SAP.”

The Panthers (26-11-4) have lost two straight and are tied with the Tampa Bay Lighting for second in the eight-team Discover Central Division, one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes. They’re 4-1-0 against the Stars, including a two-game sweep at Dallas on March 27 and 28, and play the third of a six-game road trip.

Florida traded forwards Brett Connolly and Henrik Borgstrom, defenseman Riley Stillman and a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft to the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday for forward Lucas Wallmark and defenseman Lucas Carlsson, each of whom will be assigned to the taxi squad.

The Stars (14-14-10) have dealt with injuries and eight postponed games this season because of NHL COVID-19 protocol and extreme winter storms. They’re 1-3-1 against the Panthers, including three losses in a row. They’re tied for sixth in the Central with the Columbus Blue Jackets, seven points behind the fourth-place Nashville Predators. The top four teams will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here are 3 storylines to keep an eye on:

 

Aleksander the Great

Aleksander Barkov has scored 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists) this season, tied with Jonathan Huberdeau (14 goals, 28 assists) for the Panthers lead despite missing six games with a lower-body injury. The center has scored 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in his past 10 games and was NHL Star of the Month in the Central Division after scoring 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 11 games in March.

 

Rookie and vet

Though 36-year-old forward Joe Pavelski leads the Stars with 35 points (15 goals 20 assists), Jason Robertson is third on Dallas and second among NHL rookies with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists), nine behind Kirill Kaprizov of the Minnesota Wild. The 21-year-old had an NHL rookie-best 11 assists in March and was the first Stars rookie to score 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in one month since Jere Lehtinen (four goals, 12 assists) in February 1996.

Dallas is 18th in scoring (2.74 goals per game) despite playing all season without forward Tyler Seguin (hip) and the past 12 games without forward Alexander Radulov (lower body). And forward Roope Hintz (lower body) has been in and out of the lineup.

 

Replacing Ekblad

Losing defenseman Aaron Ekblad (left leg fracture) for the rest of the regular season and the start of the playoffs was a massive blow to the Panthers. Gustav Forsling has shifted to the top defense pair with MacKenzie Weegar, and the Panthers are 4-2-0 without Ekblad. Forsling, who was claimed off waivers from the Hurricanes on Jan. 9, has scored nine points (three goals, six assists) and is plus-9 while averaging 19:25 of ice time in 28 games. He and Weegar have combined to score nine points (two goals, seven assists) in six games since Ekblad was injured March 28. Keith Yandle is the only other Florida defenseman with at least one point (one assist) during that span.

Ekblad scored 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 35 games. He still leads the Panthers with an average ice time of 25:05 per game.

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