PHILADELPHIA (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – The remaining games after the NHL’s Trade Deadline are generally considered the season’s home stretch.
The Florida Panthers added quite the punch to their bid for the postseason by acquiring veteran forward Thomas Vanek prior to the deadline.
The 33-year-old Vanek is expected to suit up for his fifth team in six seasons on Thursday as the Panthers visit the Philadelphia Flyers.
“Thomas is a proven scorer in this league who will add some offensive savvy and experience to our young group of forwards,” Panthers president Dale Tallon said. “We believe strongly in our group and we’re confident that he will help our power play and supplement our core effectively.”
Vanek, who enjoyed a resurgent season in Detroit with a club-best 15 goals, joins a Florida club that is mustering a 22nd-ranked 2.5 goals per contest and just eight in its last four games (1-3-0).
While the Panthers have won nine of 13 to reside one point behind Toronto in the race for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the free-falling Flyers find themselves four points out after posting their third win in 10 outings with a 4-0 rout of NHL-worst Colorado on Tuesday.
Wayne Simmonds (team-high 27 goals) scored twice in that contest and has gashed Florida this season with a goal and an assist in Philadelphia’s 3-1 win on Nov. 22 before netting a pair of tallies in a 3-2 overtime win on Dec. 6.
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ABOUT THE PANTHERS (29-23-10): Vanek’s 38 points match Aleksander Barkov for second-best on the Panthers, with the latter joining Jonathan Huberdeau with 11 in their last 11 games in addition to tallying in the shootout of a 3-2 win over Carolina on Tuesday.
The 21-year-old Barkov has seven goals and four assists in that stretch and also tallied in the most recent meeting with Philadelphia, while Huberdeau is riding a three-game point streak during his 11-point run (four goals, seven assists).
Veteran Jaromir Jagr snapped a four-game point drought by recording his 761st career goal on Tuesday, but has failed to dent the scoresheet in both outings versus the Flyers this season.
ABOUT THE FLYERS (29-26-7): Goaltender Michal Neuvirth signed a two-year, $5 million contract extension on Wednesday while checking forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare agreed to a two-year pact worth $2.9 million.
The 28-year-old Neuvirth posted a 10-9-1 mark this season and was slated to become a free agent this summer along with Steve Mason, although either Philadelphia netminder could be eligible for the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft.
The 31-year-old Bellemare, who has provided an integral presence on the Flyers’ penalty kill this season, has collected three goals and as many assists while competing in all 62 games in 2016-17.
- Philadelphia saw D Mark Streit traded on two occasions Wednesday, as the team initially sent the veteran to Tampa Bay for F Valtteri Filppula before the Lightning shuffled him to Pittsburgh.
- The Panthers’ 25th-ranked power play, which failed on all six attempts versus the Flyers this season, is 5-for-12 in their last four games overall after going 3-for-26 in their previous eight.
- Florida C Vincent Trocheck, who scored his team-leading 22nd goal on Tuesday, has just one tally in eight career encounters with Philadelphia.
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