Florida Panthers

Panthers won’t let rout in Winnipeg ruin otherwise solid road trip

Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant watches during a game against the Montreal Canadiens, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant watches during a game against the Montreal Canadiens, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Sunrise, Fla. AP

It was already the most successful six-game road trip in Panthers history regardless of what happened in the sixth game.

Of course, there was that sixth game.

Florida’s 8-2 loss to host Winnipeg on Tuesday night may have taken some shine off the team’s successful two-week run that took them across North America.

Yet, as coach Gerard Gallant stressed postgame, the Panthers can’t let one lopsided loss mess up what was accomplished.

After all, the Panthers now embark on an important five-game home stretch with three games coming before the weeklong All-Star break.

Do well in these final three games before the midseason vacation, and that six-goal loss in frigid Manitoba can be forgotten.

“It’s one game. We’re disappointed, a little embarrassed,” said Gallant, whose team opens up its long homestand Thursday against Colorado.

“Instead of showing a lot of video, they know they played a horrible game and weren’t ready and didn’t compete. It happens, we don’t like it when it happens, but hopefully we learn a lesson from it.”

The Panthers haven’t had many of these types of games – especially not lately.

When the team left South Florida on New Year’s Day headed to Buffalo, Florida was riding a two-game losing streak after dropping home games to the Canadiens (in a shootout) and the Rangers.

The Panthers then won in Buffalo, lost by one in Washington and beat Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton before Tuesday’s debacle.

Florida kept pace in the playoff race with the 4-2-0 road trip and came into Wednesday three points back of Boston for the final slot with three fewer games played.

“We just have to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing in the second half,” Gallant said. “If we do, we’re going to be a playoff team. If we fall off and don’t do the right things, we’re not going to be there.”

Florida’s success on the road has been well documented this season with its 28 points ranking fourth in the league.

The Panthers have played more road games than all but three other teams, meaning if they want to make it to the playoffs, they’re going to have to win at home.

Florida’s 17 home games played to date are tied with Ottawa for fewest in the league. The Panthers’ 21 home points, predictably, are ranked in the bottom third.

Although the team has a few more long road trips left – the Panthers have a pair of five-game roadies remaining – the team has plenty of long homestands to play as well.

Florida has a seven-game run at home from Feb. 26-March 12 and concludes the regular season with five in Sunrise.

That’s a lot of home points on the table.

“Our team has been battling,” Gallant said. “I think our team is confident and we’re looking forward to it.”

▪ As ugly as Florida’s loss looked Tuesday night, the numbers look even worse in the daylight.

The Panthers fell behind by three before Dave Bolland scored his first with Florida to give the Panthers life with 14:45 left in the second.

Then the Jets scored a minute later and the Panthers were done.

“The way we were playing,” Gallant said, “there was no way we were coming back.”

With that in mind, Roberto Luongo was pulled by Gallant for the second time this year as the defense collapsed time and again.

Though Winnipeg’s Matthieu Perreault scored four goals, the Panthers had two players who were a minus-4 in Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky.

The Panthers attempted only 41 shots while Winnipeg sent out 66.

“I’m going to forget about it,” Gallant said. “We just have to turn the page.”

▪ Gallant made it clear he didn’t pull Luongo out of dissatisfaction with him.

Down 4-1, however, with a long flight home and the Avs awaiting, there was just no reason to keep Luongo out there.

“Louie has been strong,” Gallant said. “I’m not blaming any of the goals on Louie. We just wanted to get him out and get him ready for the next game.”

▪ The Panthers haven’t lost two straight games in regulation since November and have won eight straight after such a loss since.

Thursday: Avalanche at Panthers

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

TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM-560, ESPN 1210 (Spanish).

Series: Colorado leads 19-10-3.

Noteworthy: Florida lost a 2-0 first-period lead but rallied and topped the host Avs 4-3 in overtime off Brad Boyes’ power play goal in October. This remains Florida’s lone win in overtime this season not counting shootouts.

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