Some packed up and headed for a holiday up north, while many more are staying home to enjoy their Christmas on the beach.
Regardless of where the Panthers are spending the next few days, they do so holding a rare holiday playoff spot.
“We just have to make sure, when we come back from Christmas, we continue to play the same way,” Jaromir Jagr said. “We’re playing a good team game, five guys up and five guys back checking. We need to play as a team.”
The Panthers, who have been to the postseason just twice since 2000 and only four times in franchise history, went into the NHL’s Christmas break tied in points with Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division.
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And after winning 11 of its past 14 games, including its previous five, Florida is only a point back of Montreal for first place in a division the now-struggling Canadiens were running away with just a few weeks ago.
The Panthers resume their season Sunday against visiting Columbus.
Florida has four games left on this holiday homestand, with the Rangers and Canadiens among those coming to Sunrise.
“This is a good Christmas present for all of us,” said Sasha Barkov, who sealed Florida’s 2-1 win over Ottawa on Tuesday night with yet another shootout goal. “We have won five in a row, so after Christmas we’ll be back getting back to work.”
The Panthers, who last held a playoff spot on Christmas in 2011 when they eventually won the Southeast Division, have climbed up the standings and were ranked third in The Hockey News’ latest NHL power rankings.
Coach Gerard Gallant, one of those staying in town for the holiday, said he would have liked to have gotten two points and left the Senators with none on Tuesday but is real pleased with what he has been seeing lately.
Of the teams in the Atlantic in which the Panthers are competing with, only the Senators picked up a point Tuesday. Montreal, Boston, Detroit and Tampa Bay all lost in regulation. Just six points separate the sixth-place Lightning and first-place Montreal.
“We’re finishing real strong here, and the guys will have three good days off,” Gallant said. “We’ll get back to work and know how important these points are, especially early in the season like this. We have 42 points now. We’re real close to the top of the division, which is a good sign, but everyone else is real close, too.”
The Panthers have been terrific on both ends of the ice, dominating play in the offensive zone while limiting chances against goalies Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya.
“We’ve been carrying the play most nights,” Luongo said. “That’s the type of hockey we want to be playing.”
On Tuesday, the Panthers were all over Senators goalie Craig Anderson, outshooting Ottawa 40-16. Florida has outshot its opponent 10 times in its past 14 games.
▪ Jagr had plenty of jokes after a scary moment in the first period Tuesday in which he hit the ice in a pool of blood after being smashed in the mouth by the errant stick of Ottawa’s Alex Chiasson.
“It’ll be a dentist Christmas,” he quipped.
Jagr supposedly also told Gallant that he planned to sell the four teeth left on the ice on eBay. After the game, he said the loss of his teeth actually “increased my speed” and helped him on his coast-to-coast breakaway in the final seconds of overtime.
On Twitter, Jagr wrote to Santa asking for “new teeth for Christmas,” because it would “be tough to eat good” and indulge over the holiday.
▪ The 2016 World Junior Championship starts Saturday in Helsinki, with the Panthers having four of their prospects playing. Lawson Crouse, Florida’s top pick in the June draft, and goalie Samuel Montembeault (third-round pick in 2015) will play for Team Canada. Juho Lammikkko, who was a third-round pick in 2014, will represent Finland, while Denis Malgin (fourth round, 2015) will represent Switzerland.
▪ The Panthers will reconvene with an open practice at 11 a.m. Saturday at the IceDen in Coral Springs.