Slumping Panthers look to rebound vs. Stars (Dec 31, 2016)

BY AP • December 30, 2016

DALLAS -- The Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars share a common goal for Saturday's game at American Airlines Center: win and end the year on a positive note.

For Florida (15-14-8), which dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to Montreal at the BB&T Center on Thursday, winning in Dallas appears to be crucial - especially considering the Panthers have dropped 10 of their last 13 games.

And for a club rocked by injuries so far this season, getting forward Reilly Smith (concussion) back on Saturday could be just the boost the Panthers need.

"Again, we had to use a lot of our top guys for penalties," Florida interim coach Tom Rowe said after the loss to the Canadiens. "We got a lot of penalties in the beginning. I had to only use four guys and that really hurts them. They got to short shift the rest of the way. It catches up to you at some point in time."

Smith is one of four Panthers with Dallas ties. Defenseman Jason Demers, who has already equaled his career high with seven goals this season, and centers Jaromir Jagr and Colton Sceviour also once suited up for the Stars.

Despite Florida struggling in its past 13 games, the Panthers still have a respectable road record of 6-8-5 away from Sunrise.

Rowe opted to not hold practice on Friday before he and his team hopped a plane to the Lone Star State.

The Panthers made several roster moves on Friday, including recalling forward Greg McKegg from Springfield of the American Hockey League. McKegg has already appeared in 19 NHL games this season.

Florida also placed Aleksander Barkov on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury. Rowe said Barkov should miss two to three weeks. The Panthers also sent young forward Kyle Rau to the AHL.

As for Dallas (16-14-7), the Stars are on their first notable roll of the season. They have won three straight, their longest positive streak this season.

Dallas defeated Colorado, 4-2, on Thursday, improving to 11-5-3 on home ice.

Goaltender Kari Lehtonen left that game early in the third period with a potential concussion following a collision with Jarome Iginla.

Lehtonen went through the NHL's concussion protocol and returned to the Dallas bench late in the game. And on Friday, the Finnish-born netminder went through practice without issue and could even get the start against the Panthers.

"Yeah, he's 100 percent," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of Lehtonen after practice on Friday. "I even reviewed it again today, it was more of an incidental (play) where the player got turned backwards. Anytime that happens, it's part of the protocol now."

Lehtonen had stopped 13 of the 14 Avalanche shots he faced prior to leaving the ice 5:46 into the third period. He was replaced in net by Antti Niemi.

On Friday, Dallas got some additional positive injury-related news regarding veteran forward Patrick Sharp, who has been out the past 12 games with concussion symptoms.

Sharp, who last played Dec. 1 at Pittsburgh, will return to the ice Saturday against the Panthers.

"Sharp is cleared to go and indicated that he's up and ready to play," Ruff said. "So for me, (it's) an opportunity to get him in there tomorrow (Saturday)."

However, fellow forward Antoine Roussel, out the past three games with an upper-body issue, will not return against the Panthers. He could still play the final game of the homestand, Wednesday against Montreal.

"He (Roussel) is not quite there yet. Today was sort of an 80 percent day at practice for him, but he's moving closer to that date," Ruff said.

Dallas has a history of winning on New Year's Eve, especially since most of those games have been at home since the franchise relocated from Minnesota in 1993.

And Ruff would like to see that success continue against Florida because that would mean the Stars' winning streak goes from three games to four.

"Obviously, to get back in it (the playoff race), you got to get on a run. We talked about one game at a time," Ruff said. "It started with the beginning of this homestand, getting off to a good start. We did and we've been able to carry some of that momentum."

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