The Florida Panthers aren’t looking to cool off in the cold climate of Edmonton against the Oilers on Sunday night.
The Panthers come into Edmonton winners of 11 consecutive games, on the front end of a back-to-back against the Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.
The current winning streak has the Panthers atop the Atlantic Division, five points up on the Detroit Red Wings, but the last few victories haven’t come as smoothly as the first eight, and there’s an emphasis to refocus.
“We didn’t think we played that well the last three games, so we had a good, hard practice [Saturday],” coach Gerard Gallant said.
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“We thought the guys competed, and then you have your little meetings with the guys and say, ‘Let’s get back to our game.’ ”
Gallant believes the victories over the Wild, Sabres — who they beat 5-1 — and Senators come with a silver lining, though, forcing the team to regain its form against a speedy Oilers club that would love to end the Panthers’ hunt for 12 wins in a row.
“Sometimes when you’re winning games like that, and you win some ugly games, it’s a good thing for your club,” Gallant said. “I like our team, I like the confidence we have right now, but things change in a hurry.”
With a dressing room replete with young talent and seasoned veterans, the team has come together fully.
For 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who will represent the Panthers at the NHL All-Star Game in Nashville, it has been the ability to remain upbeat and find ways to win games that have helped build the confidence the team is currently riding.
“We didn’t have a very good start [to the season], but I don’t think nobody panicked, and that’s the good thing about it,” he said. “It’s going to happen, it kind of helped us with the confidence we’ve had the past few weeks to get us over the edge when we don’t play very well.”
Goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is expected to get the night off Sunday and then start against former club Vancouver on Monday, said he never imagined the team going on an 11-game win streak but the potential has always been present, and it just took some time for it to be realized.
“We always thought we had a good team,” Luongo said. “Coming into this year, we had bigger expectations among ourselves, and we didn’t start off great — we were around .500 — but something clicked with our group a couple months ago, and we just started playing the right way, hard every night, and we’re getting the results.”
Regardless of the streak and standings, the vibrancy of the team has been contagious for the players, who are on the ice simply to enjoy the game and have fun.
“Our mind is like we are 25 still,” Jagr said. “We want to have fun, and most of us act like we are 25, so it’s not much different.”
This will be the last game the Panthers play at Rexall Place, as the Oilers will move into Rogers Place for the start of next season. Florida is 4-7-1 all-time at Rexall Place.
Sunday: Panthers at Oilers
When/where: 9:30 p.m.; Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Scouting report: “Every time you face a team that’s on a winning streak, you want to be that team to beat them, and it’s definitely very exciting for us, and we’re going to do whatever we can to beat them,” Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl said.