Florida Panthers

Panthers back from vacation, ready to start renewed playoff chase

The Florida Panthers celebrate a 2-1 win over visiting Anaheim — their third consecutive victory — on Friday in Sunrise.
The Florida Panthers celebrate a 2-1 win over visiting Anaheim — their third consecutive victory — on Friday in Sunrise. AP

When the Florida Panthers finished off the Anaheim Ducks with a 2-1 win on Friday night, they went into their so-called spring break two points out of a playoff spot.

Upon arrival to practice Wednesday afternoon, they were still just three points outside of the postseason.

Not a bad few days off.

With 30 games left starting with Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Panthers — despite a mostly-disappointing season to date — are right in the playoff mix.

“We have to treat these games like they’re the playoffs if we want to make the playoffs,” Vincent Trocheck said. “We need a great run over the last 30 games; they’re all must-win games for us. That’s our attitude.”

Said Aaron Ekblad: “We feel great, are well rested and have been able to carry wins over from the All-Star break through this past one. It’s do-or-die now. We have to feel that desperation every game.”

The break in the schedule seemingly came just at the right time for the Panthers.

Right before the All-Star break, Florida got Nick Bjugstad and Alex Petrovic off the injured list.

On Friday, top-line forwards Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were cleared to play.

“I think it’s time for us to start rolling,” Bjugstad said. “You look around and guys like Trocheck had to play 27 minutes a night. It’s important to get the rest and I think we’ll have some fresh legs with new guys back.

“This is going to be a fun challenge. After making the playoffs last year, we know there’s no better hockey games to play in.”

For the first time all season, the Panthers had their top line of Barkov, Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr playing together. It looked like they had never skipped a beat.

Jagr said it was fun having his linemates back.

“It’s more fun for everyone,” Jagr said. “It was our first game together and it felt good. We made some plays, had a lot of opportunities.”

▪ While some players spent their off week on the beach or with the family at the Orlando theme parks, Keith Yandle and Shawn Thornton spent Sunday in Texas.

Both players are diehard Patriots fans and took full advantage of Florida’s time off — not to mention their ties to the team — and flew to Houston for Super Bowl 51.

Despite the big deficit, Yandle and Thornton stayed until the end.

“Being the good fans we are, we stayed, and it all worked out,” said Yandle, a Boston native. “It was a short trip, but it’s something I will never forget. It was ridiculous.”

▪ The Panthers were at full strength Wednesday save for Jonathan Marchessault whom assistant coach Dave Barr said was given the day off because he’s a little banged up.

▪ Florida will wear white jerseys at home for the first time in years on Thursday night.

The Kings were asked to wear their home dark jerseys for a game in Philadelphia — so the Flyers could wear special white 50th anniversary togs — last Saturday and thereby only brought those on their road trip.

THURSDAY: KINGS AT PANTHERS

▪ When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.

▪ TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMYM 990.

▪ Series: Los Angeles leads 17-10-3.

▪ Scouting report: After kicking off this four-game trip with an overtime win in Philadelphia, the Kings lost 5-0 to both the Caps and Lightning. Sunday’s loss in Washington snapped a five-game winning streak.

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