Florida Panthers

Second line huge key to Florida Panthers’ success

The Florida Panthers' Jussi Jokinen, right, celebrates his goal during the first period against Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017.
The Florida Panthers' Jussi Jokinen, right, celebrates his goal during the first period against Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. Dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

When Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau returned from injuries earlier this month, everyone knew what that meant for Florida’s top line.

The Panthers hoped solidifying the top line of Barkov, Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr would trickle down through the lineup.

Boy, has it ever.

Florida got plenty of scoring during its five-game road winning streak before coming home and losing its next two.

The second line of center Vincent Trocheck and wingers Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith was a huge reason for Florida’s road success and offers hope down the road, too.

If the Panthers are going to make a run for the playoffs — and a big home game against Atlantic Division rival Ottawa awaits on Sunday night — they will likely need their second-line players to continue scoring.

“Earlier in the year, Jokinen was hurt and we had a lot of other injuries,” said Trocheck, who played with Jokinen and Smith for much of last season but players being out forced the Panthers to scramble things up for much of this season.

“The three of us really haven’t been together very much until recently, and I think now that we’re back and we’re a healthy team helps everyone. We can finally play our role and feel comfortable.

“I played with probably five, six different guys. It was just a matter of us getting back together and getting that chemistry back.”

In Florida’s five-game road win streak — which marked the first time the Panthers went 5-0 on a road trip in their history — the second line was outstanding.

Not only did Trocheck’s goal with 4.6 seconds left beat the Blues in St. Louis on Monday night, but Jokinen has three goals in the past five games. Smith has five assists.

The Trocheck-Jokinen-Smith troika has combined for six goals and 21 points in the past seven games.

Not too shabby.

“I think our whole team is playing very well right now,” said Jokinen, who has three assists in Florida’s two most recent home losses.

“Having Barkov and Huberdeau back gives our whole team a lot of confidence. We’re scoring more goals than we were at the start of the season and every line has been doing their part.”

Said Trocheck: “This has been a lot of fun; obviously, it’s always more fun when you’re winning. But to be able to go on the road and do what we did was great.”

After all the success the second line had last season, Smith and Jokinen definitely struggled, as did their team.

Jokinen says some days were tough and although he figured things would reverse course, it wasn’t always easy to keep the faith.

In December, for instance, Jokinen had just two goals and two assists and was a minus-7 as the Panthers went through some unstable times.

“Some of it was ‘puck luck’ but every player goes through some tough stretches — even guys like Sidney Crosby,” said Jokinen, who notched 18 goals and 60 points last season and has nine goals and 22 points this year.

“What you have to do is remember to work hard in the games, in practices, in the gym and do the little things like rest off the ice. It’s a long year. You have to remember it’s going to turn around.”

Sunday: Senators at Panthers

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

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

Series: Ottawa leads 51-37-3.

Scouting report: This is the final regular-season meeting between the teams, with Florida winning two of the first three matchups. The teams could meet in the playoffs as the Panthers try to chase down the Senators. Ottawa comes in four points ahead of Florida in the Atlantic Division.

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