After three days off for the NHL’s Christmas break, the Panthers got back to work Saturday.
They hope to pick up where they left off on Sunday evening.
The Panthers, who have won five consecutive games and 11 of their past 14, are back in action Sunday when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit BB&T Center.
“We always enjoy days off, but you pay for them when you get back out here,” Brian Campbell said. “We have a lot of important games coming up.
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“But it’s not like we’ve only been playing well for a week or two. It’s been going on for a good month at least, and we learned a lot over the first few months about ourselves and how we want to play. We know what works for our team. We’re not going to change much.”
Unlike the Panthers, Columbus was pressed into action early with a game Saturday night at Tampa Bay.
Florida hopes to find its first six-game winning streak since 2008 and keep pace in a competitive Atlantic Division.
The Panthers went into the break tied with Boston in points for second place and a point back of Montreal for first overall.
“It’s obviously nice seeing yourself a point out of first,” Campbell said. “It’s not nice seeing yourself three points out of ninth. It’s so close right now. The only team in the Eastern Conference with breathing room is Washington. We know there’s a lot of work to be done, but we’ve put ourselves in a nice position.”
Florida will continue its six-game homestand Sunday with wins in its first two against Vancouver and Ottawa.
Brandon Pirri said the Panthers are coming back with the same mind-set they’ve been playing for much of the past month.
“These are treated as playoff games; the points will get us where we want to be,’’ winger Brandon Pirri said. “We’re playing really well right now; we’re where we want to be in the standings. But things are so close, if you take a few games off, you’re on the outside looking in. We have to bring the same intensity and work ethic in which we play a full 60 minutes. These points count the same as the ones in April.’’
The Panthers have been getting contributions from all over the ice with their forwards dictating the pace of the game in the offensive zone with their defensemen and goalies controlling things in their own part of the ice.
“The timing was good, we have a good run going but you need the time off to recharge the batteries a bit,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “Hopefully, we’ll get back on the same run. I thought we’ve played good hockey roughly for the past 20 games.”
In Tuesday’s shootout win over the Senators, Florida got its lone goal from fourth-line call-up Corban Knight.
In five games since being recalled from the AHL, Knight has played good minutes as Florida’s fourth-line center and has won 67 percent of his faceoffs.
It looks like Knight will remain with the Panthers for the foreseeable future although they haven’t told him that just yet.
“I think everyone is feeling good in here right now after the way we have been playing,’’ Knight said Saturday after a long Christmas trip home to Alberta.
“It’s a good atmosphere. This has been a blast, I’m glad to be a part of it.’’
▪ Nick Bjugstad took part in a team practice for the first time since leaving the ice during a workout in St. Louis on Nov. 30.
Bjugstad has been complaining of migraines, with Gallant saying he has been cleared medically to get back on the ice with his teammates.
“He felt good, everything went real good,’’ Gallant said. “[Saturday] was a start, and we’ll see what [Sunday] brings.”
▪ Jaromir Jagr was back at practice after getting four new front teeth on Wednesday. Jagr had his former teeth removed midway through the first period of Tuesday’s game thanks to an errant stick from Ottawa’s Alex Chiasson.
▪ Pirri sent some fans scrambling at the team’s IceDen practice facility Saturday when his wrist shot shattered the safety glass behind the net.
When asked if he had been pumping iron during the break, Pirri smiled. “No, just ate too much,’’ he said.
▪ Defenseman Steven Kampfer hasn’t skated since being hurt in a pile-up against Washington on Dec. 10.
Kampfer appeared to injure his knee when T.J. Oshie collided with Dmitry Kulikov and threw him into Kampfer as he skated through. Both Kulikov and Kampfer hit the ice with Kampfer appearing to land directly on his knee.
“It’s getting better, but still bothering him,’’ Gallant said.
Sunday: Blue Jackets at Panthers
When/where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210.
Series: Columbus leads 13-6-0.
Scouting report: The is the second meeting between the two this month with Florida winning at Columbus 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 4. That was the final win in Florida’s first five-game winning streak of the month as the Panthers lost their following game in New Jersey.