After notching a couple more franchise firsts with their latest victory, the Florida Panthers look to record their most successful homestand ever.
The surprise Atlantic Division leaders close out a six-game residency seeking an unprecedented ninth straight win in Sunday's clash with the Minnesota Wild.
A perennial also-ran for most of their 22 seasons of existence, the Panthers (22-12-4) have risen into the NHL's upper tier behind a torrid 14-3-0 stretch. That includes a club-record eight consecutive victories following Saturday's 3-0 win over the New York Rangers that also established a new franchise best of six straight home wins.
The Panthers set the mark hours after announcing a contract extension for coach Gerard Gallant through 2018-19. The move came one day after the team extended general manager Dale Tallon's deal for three years.
''He has done an excellent job of creating a winning culture and developing our young players in his time with the Panthers,'' Tallon said of Gallant. ''He is an ideal fit for our group and we look forward to having him lead our team as we work toward our goal of winning the Stanley Cup.''
Florida has reached the postseason only once in the previous 14 seasons and last won a playoff series in 1996. The franchise's previous best homestands of six games or more came in November 1995 – five wins and a tie – and a 6-0-1 span in March 2008.
“The last few games felt like playoff games, and that's the kind you want to play,” goaltender Roberto Luongo said. “We want to keep on doing what we're doing.”
Luongo has done his part during the unbeaten run, in which the Panthers have yielded a mere 10 goals. The veteran was at his best Saturday, recording a season-high 40 saves to break his own team record with his seventh consecutive win.
The 36-year-old has posted a 1.26 goals-against average and two shutouts during the streak.
Luongo hasn't started games on back-to-back days this season, though Al Montoya has been just as solid when his number's been called. The career backup owns a 5-1-1 record with a 1.79 GAA and .930 save percentage in eight starts and has allowed one goal in each of his last three – all wins.
Montoya also has yielded one goal in each of his four games against Minnesota and won them all. Luongo has lost his last four versus the Wild.
After halting a seven-game losing streak to the Rangers, Florida next faces another longtime nemesis. The Wild are 12-1-2 in the series' past 15 meetings and have won the last three in regulation.
Minnesota (20-10-7) also has received strong goaltending from Devan Dubnyk during a 2-0-1 stretch as he's permitted four goals on 93 shots. On the current four-game road trip, he followed a 33-save effort in Thursday's 3-1 win at St. Louis with 28 in Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss at Tampa Bay.
Jared Spurgeon helped the Wild earn a point by scoring the tying goal with 2:39 left in regulation. Minnesota also had a third-period power-play goal from Ryan Suter overturned when Zach Parise, back from a knee injury that sidelined him against St. Louis, was ruled to have interfered with Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“I think probably if we won the shootout, we might be feeling pretty good about ourselves, so we obviously have to find a way to make sure we're ready to start the game better (Sunday),” coach Mike Yeo said.
Dubnyk has registered a 1.46 GAA in winning all four career starts against Florida, including a 2-1 victory in the most recent matchup Feb. 12.