Veteran coaches, young goalies highlight Panthers-Wild clash
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Both the Minnesota Wild and the Florida Panthers -- who meet on Tuesday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla. -- had goalies earn their first NHL wins within the past week.
For the Wild, it was Kaapo Kahkonen, who made his NHL debut last Tuesday, stopping 32 shots to defeat the New Jersey Devils 3-2.
"I'll probably realize the (significance of) this later," said Kahkonen, a 23-year-old from Finland. "I don't know how to feel right now."
His win was a lift for the Wild, who have been without Devan Dubnyk since Nov. 16 as his wife faces health issues. Dubnyk, who did not make the trip to Florida, has started 13 games -- the same number as veteran goalie Alex Stalock, who started the past two contests as the Wild extended their win streak to three games.
Over on the Florida side, Chris Driedger, a 25-year-old Canadian, made his first NHL start on Saturday, and he earned a 3-0 shutout win over the Nashville Predators.
"I'm pretty speechless," said Driedger, who made 27 saves. "It's a surreal moment. I'm cloud-nining right now."
Panthers coach Joel Quenneville indicated on Monday that he will start Driedger against Minnesota, temporarily benching Sergei Bobrovsky (9-6-4, 3.48 goals-against average, .884 save percentage).
Bobrovsky has yet to live up to the seven-year, $70 million contract he signed with the Panthers in July.
Tuesday's contest will mark the second game out of nine in this Panthers homestand, which is the longest in franchise history. The Panthers are 7-3-2 at home this season and need to take advantage of a Minnesota team that is just 5-10-2 on the road.
Then again, Minnesota has been playing well overall in its past 13 games, tallying an 8-2-3 record.
Both teams are in relatively good shape on the injury front. Minnesota has been without third-pair defenseman Greg Pateryn all season. While he was expected back soon, he suffered a setback in his recovery from core muscle surgery.
Panthers fourth-line winger Jayce Hawryluk remains out with an upper-body injury.
Tuesday's matchup features two accomplished coaches: Quenneville, who is in his first year in Florida after having won three Stanley Cup titles as the boss of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Boudreau, who was the NHL's Coach of the Year in 2008 with the Washington Capitals.
Boudreau might be under more pressure than his counterpart since this is his fourth season with Minnesota.
The Wild missed the playoffs last season, ending a six-year run in which they qualified. They have a veteran team with Eric Staal, 35, leading the team with 19 points. Zach Parise, also 35, leads the team in goals (12) and has 16 points. Mats Zuccarello, 32, and Mikko Koivu, 36, each have 12 points.
In addition, three of Minnesota's top six defensemen have significant wear on their skates: Ryan Suter, 34, Jared Spurgeon, 30, and Brad Hunt, 31.
Jonathan Huberdeau, 26, and Aleksander Barkov, 24, lead the Panthers in points with 31 each. Brett Connolly, 27, leads Florida in goals (12).