Since Gerard Gallant took over the Florida Panthers, his club has played nothing but one-goal games against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The visiting Panthers have captured both matchups this season and could face a challenge Saturday if they face the Blue Jackets’ Joonas Korpisalo for the first time.
Florida (35-18-7) starts a five-game trip with the Eastern Conference’s second-best record, although a chasing pack that includes Atlantic Division rivals Tampa Bay and Boston is not far behind. The Panthers won three of four to close a six-game homestand with Thursday’s 3-2 victory over Arizona.
"You don’t worry about playoffs, you worry about two points. It was another big two points tonight," Gallant said.
Gallant’s only previous head coaching job was with Columbus (25-29-8) between 2003-07. He lost his first two games against his former club last season before winning three straight. The Blue Jackets took 10 consecutive meetings before this current slide.
The coach got a key player back Thursday in Aleksander Barkov, who scored twice after missing six games with a head injury. Barkov had scored in four consecutive games and had at least a point in six straight before he was hit in the head by Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader in a Feb. 8 loss.
"It’s always nice to be back," Barkov said. "I hate missing games because it’s so boring. Finally, I’m playing and trying to have fun."
Barkov’s return is timely since Jonathan Huberdeau has landed on injured reserve after sitting out against the Coyotes with an upper-body injury. Huberdeau is third on the team with 40 points.
Barkov, who has 37 points, scored twice the last time these teams met in a 3-2 win Dec. 27. He also converted in the shootout of a 2-1 victory at Columbus on Dec. 4.
The Panthers did not face Korpisalo in those games and he is establishing himself due to an injuries to Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney, who recently returned. Korpisalo is 10-2-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average in his last 15 starts.
Columbus improved to 8-2-3 in its last 13 with Thursday’s 6-1 rout of New Jersey. Nick Foligno had his second career hat trick and added an assist for his first career four-point effort.
"It’s nice to contribute and help the guys in that department," he said. "It’s something I pride myself on but I was more proud of the way we played."
Korpisalo made 25 saves and was critical to the outcome even though the Blue Jackets bolted to a 3-0 lead after one period, according to his coach.
"I thought the key part of the game, quite honestly, even though it ends up being a 6-1 game, was the beginning of the second period when Korpisalo makes some great saves," coach John Tortorella said. "We were just sound asleep."
William Karlsson and Matt Calvert each had three assists. Karlsson had four points – all on goals – in his previous 12 games and Calvert ended a seven-game pointless drought.
The Panthers are starting a back-to-back set of afternoon games and will likely split the starts between Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya. Each has beaten Columbus this season.
Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson will be out for two weeks after being placed on injured reserve Friday with an upper-body injury.