About this time last season, the Florida Panthers embarked on a little road trip and absolutely caught fire.
An every day, average Tuesday night game in Brooklyn helped turn the Panthers’ season around.
Florida’s 5-1 win over the host New York Islanders on Dec. 15 was the first in what would end up becoming a franchise-best 12-game winning streak, a run that propelled the Panthers into first place in the Atlantic Division.
On Monday, the Panthers boarded up their jet and headed north once more – this December trip not taking them to a night in the big city but to St. Paul, Minnesota.
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Owner Vinnie Viola isn’t expected to meet them for dinner as he did in New York, and the Panthers probably won’t bump into actor Kevin Spacey as they did then either.
And, no, the Panthers aren’t counting on another 12-game winning streak.
But to win a second consecutive game Tuesday against the host Minnesota Wild and get some sort of run going sure would be welcomed.
“We obviously want to start piecing something together, we haven’t been consistent enough,” said Shawn Thornton, whose run-in with the Oscar-winning actor is believed to be behind last year’s ‘Spacey In Space’ craze which took on a life of its own during Florida’s winning streak.
“We have been sputtering along, but last year is last year. We had a different set of circumstances, our travel schedule was completely different. We had some time together before that streak and haven’t had that this year. We may only be a few points out, but I would rather be a few points in.
“Everyone keeps saying you’re a few points out until you’re really out. We’re good enough to win. We just need to do it on a consistent basis.”
Florida snapped a four-game winless streak Saturday against Vancouver and hope to build on that during this three-game road trip with stops in Minnesota, Winnipeg and Colorado.
When the Panthers left for New York last year, they were 14-12-4 and trying to stay close in the playoff race.
Florida heads to Minnesota 13-12-4 after Saturday’s win.
“I think you get a sense of urgency around here with the only good thing being everyone is still all bunched together,” said goalie Roberto Luongo, whose team came into Monday two points back of Boston for third place — and a playoff spot — in the Atlantic.
“Everyone is within reach so we just have to worry about winning each game. We can’t think about a 12-game winning streak, just worry about each night. We can’t look too far ahead. If we do the right things, everything will work out eventually.”
▪ Jonathan Marchessault was back at practice after missing the past few games with what’s believed to be a groin injury.
For the first time since training camp, Marchessault was lined up with center Nick Bjugstad and Colton Sceviour on the Florida third line the team envisioned when it signed Marchessault and Sceviour on July 1.
“I’ll see how it feels [Tuesday] because I have to be smart; what’s one game out of 82?” said Marchessault, who leads the Panthers with nine goals and 19 points.
“It has gone well so far and I want to come back at 100 percent. When it’s about skating, you want 100 percent.”
▪ Luongo briefly left Monday’s practice in pain after being struck on the hand during early shooting drills.
Luongo was followed by medical personnel and goalie coach Robb Tallas who wasn’t too pleased with the aggressive nature of Florida’s players.
“I’m good,” Luongo said with a smile. “You saw me come back out, right? Didn’t miss a shift.”
Tuesday: Panthers at Wild
When/where: 8 p.m.; Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: Minnesota leads 13-5-1.
Scouting report: The Wild is currently third in the Central Division after winning four consecutive games. Minnesota leads the league in goals-against (2.0) and is eighth in goals per-game (2.8). Florida hasn’t won in Minnesota since 2010 — a run of four consecutive losses at Xcel.