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Panthers gear up for Ducks hoping for California sweep

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The Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks will meet in Southern California on Sunday with heavy odds against reaching the playoffs, but it still should not prevent what could be an offensive showdown.

The game within the game when opponents from opposite conferences meet figures to be a duel with Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov against Ducks right wing Corey Perry.

Barkov is as hot as it gets with a goal and 11 assists over the Panthers’ current four-game winning streak. That has come on the heels of a six-game losing streak which dealt a blow to Florida’s playoff hopes.

Going back even further, Barkov has 11 goals and 17 assists over his last 15 games since delivering a hat trick at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 17.

Also standing tall of late for Florida is rookie goaltender Sam Montembeault, who has made just five NHL starts and four of them have come during the current winning streak. Montembeault had 28 saves as the Panthers earned a 4-2 victory at San Jose on Thursday and had 24 more saves during a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

The victory at San Jose was the first time the Sharks had lost in their own building since Feb. 18.

“We’re not out of it yet,” Panthers head coach Bob Boughner said, according to nhl.com. “We know it’s a long way to get (into the playoffs). We’re concentrating on winning every game, really. That’s the goal. … We’re going to fight.”

At first glance, it looks as if the Panthers won’t have to put up much of a fight Sunday in order to go 3-for-3 on their trip through California. The Ducks are next-to-last in the Western Conference, but they have not only been winning of late, they have been showing an offensive prowess that has not been visible for some time.

The Ducks have scored 28 goals over their last eight games, going 5-3 in that stretch. They have an 8-1 victory over the Canadiens in that time and are coming off a 5-3 victory at Colorado against an Avalanche team fighting to become playoff eligible.

Perry scored two goals against the Avalanche, including the go-ahead score with less than a minute remaining. The veteran has three goals and a pair of assists over his last five games and finally seems to be rounding into form after not making his season debut until Feb. 2 because of a knee injury.

Ducks team captain Ryan Getzlaf also scored against the Avalanche, as the Ducks now have 170 goals on the season, and are no longer last in the NHL.

“We’ve been trying to work on our game,” Getzlaf said, according to nhl.com. “That’s the biggest thing. We spent half the season battling against ourselves, basically. Now we’re taking a lot more pride in the way we want to play and the way we want to build for next season.”

Ducks center Ryan Kesler (hip) continues to be sidelined, while defenseman Brendan Guhle (undisclosed) and goaltender Chad Johnson (head) are day-to-day. Panthers right wing Denis Malgin is close to returning from an undisclosed injury, while right wing Colton Sceviour returned Saturday after more than a month away because of a hand injury.

–Field Level Media

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