The Florida Panthers are finally starting to find their groove.
Following their 4-2 win over the perennial Stanley Cup contender Pittsburgh Penguins — a win in which the Panthers held the offensive-minded Penguins to a season-low 22 shots on goal — Florida has won three of its past four games and has earned points toward its hopeful playoff berth in six consecutive games.
But don’t expect this newfound surge of success to result in complacency.
“We’ve got lots of work ahead of us,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said. “The points and win are obviously a big step for confidence and to bring the team together, but on the other hand it’s a long season and we’ve got so much work to do.”
That long season continues with a week-long trip through Canada and the West Coast of the United States.
The itinerary for the four-game, seven-day trip:
▪ Thursday against the 5-5-1 Calgary Flames.
▪ Sunday against the 7-2-1 Edmonton Oilers.
▪ Monday against the 6-3-0 Vancouver Canucks.
▪ Wednesday against the 7-1-1 Colorado Avalanche (who already have a win over the Panthers in their pocket).
The Panthers (4-2-3) get their easiest opponent first against the Flames, who have dropped two of their past three.
But the gantlet will be an uphill battle from there.
The Oilers, Canucks and Avalanche all rank in the top 10 in the league in goals allowed per game, with Vancouver (2.11, third) and Edmonton (2.30, fifth) in the top five.
Colorado is second in the league with an average of four goals per game.
“It’s an important trip for us, and it’s in really tough places, so we want to make sure that we take care of business here at home. That was a real positive coming out of today’s game,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “Going in there, we’d like to start off on the right foot. Let’s go into this trip knowing, ‘Hey, we want to make sure each and every night we’re going to look to get some points.’”
And the Panthers have done just that over the past two-plus weeks.
They racked up four out of a possible six points on a three-game road trip against the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, rallying from third-period deficits to force shootouts in the first two games and to win the third in regulation.
They picked up three of four points in their most recent back-to-back, dropping a home game in overtime to the Avalanche before traveling to Nashville for a shootout victory.
And then against the Penguins on Tuesday, they took the lead against the Penguins late in the second period on a strong goal from Denis Malgin, added an insurance goal from Jonathan Huberdeau with about six minutes left in regulation and sealed the win with an empty-net goal from Frank Vatrano.
“It’s just good to get some points early,” Huberdeau said. “That’s what we want.”
Now, they will see if they can continue that momentum on the road.
“Guys on the bench are good,” Quenneville said. “I think at critical times late in periods and for sure in the last 10 minutes of a game like [Tuesday], I think we want to be out there. We want the puck. We want to do good things. There’s talk about doing the right things in those situations across the bench as well. I think that’s progression in the mind set and I think for the guys, finding ways to get points is what it’s all about.”
Shortly after the Panthers’ win on Tuesday, the club announced it traded defenseman Ian McCoshen to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Aleski Saarela.
Saarela, 22, will report to the Springfield Thunderbirds, the Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate.