Preview: Red-hot Evgenii Dadonov leads Panthers into showdown with Maple Leafs
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are hoping Evgenii Dadonov stays hot for a while.
The Panthers (28-25-6), who play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs (39-20-6) on Tuesday night at the BB&T Center, are coming off an impressive 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Dadonov had a hat trick against the Penguins. Earlier this season, he scored five goals in five games, and the 28-year-old Russian — who spent the past five seasons in the KHL — is quickly earning a reputation as a streaky shooter.
“He’s an elite goal-scorer in this league and in this world,” Panthers top-line center and All-Star Aleksander Barkov told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. “He was scoring a lot of goals in Russia. It was just a matter of time when the pucks started going in (here). He’s been dangerous the whole season.”
Dadonov, who signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Panthers this past summer, has 18 goals and 23 assists in 51 games this season.
He will test his skills on Tuesday against the Leafs, who lost 4-3 in a shootout against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.
Despite the defeat, Toronto is making a strong bid to try to win the Stanley Cup this year, acquiring center Tomas Plekanec, 35, from the Montreal Canadiens, roughly 24 hours before Monday afternoon’s trade deadline.
Plekanec has made the transition from scoring standout earlier in his career to shut-down center who can strengthen a checking line and give the Leafs more depth, especially with star pivot Auston Matthews out several weeks due to a separated shoulder.
“We want to go for it,” Toronto forward Nazem Kadri told The Globe and Mail. “I’m talking wins. That’s what we are here for, to win. We don’t want to go as far as the first or second round. We’re here to make a push.”
Plekanec, who had six goals and 18 assists with Montreal this season, can take key face-offs and play special teams. He also brings playoff experience. He has played 87 postseason games in his career, and that could be very valuable to a young team such as Toronto.
“It’s special,” Plekanec said on a Sunday conference call when asked about leaving Montreal’s organization, where he spent 15 years, to go to rival Toronto. “I’m looking forward to the playoffs. It’s a great organization (Toronto) and fan base. They are playing well.”
Indeed, the Leafs have been dominant at home lately, winning nine straight in Toronto. And they have been very good overall this month, with a franchise-record 10 wins in February. The Leafs’ previous record for the best month of February was nine wins in 1971, 2003 and 2013.
Meanwhile, the Panthers have won nine of their past 12 games, vaulting Florida to the precipice of playoff contention.
“I feel like we have a pretty good team right now,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “It feels like we have the confidence we needed to start the season.”