Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers trio enjoying their own brand of March Madness

Florida Panthers right wing Reilly Smith, center, celebrates his first period goal with teammates Vincent Trocheck, left, and Jussi Jokinen during play against the Calgary Flames in an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers right wing Reilly Smith, center, celebrates his first period goal with teammates Vincent Trocheck, left, and Jussi Jokinen during play against the Calgary Flames in an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. AP

Jussi Jokinen smiles every time someone asks him about how well his line is playing these days.

Things are going so good for Jokinen, Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith right now all three cannot wait to get on the ice each day.

“There isn’t a better feeling a hockey player could have than the feeling we have right now,’’ Jokinen said. “We’ve been scoring two goals, it seems, every game. We have so much confidence in each other, so much chemistry. It’s really fun coming to the rink.”

The line, centered by Trocheck with Jokinen and Smith on the wings, is a threat to score every time it’s on the ice.

Florida coach Gerard Gallant talks about the Panthers' upcoming week including Tuesday's game against visiting Toronto.

Since March 1, at least one of them has scored a point in a game except for the loss in Brooklyn to the Islanders.

Most nights all three make it to the score sheet on way or another.

In Saturday’s 5-2 win over Tampa Bay, Jokinen sent a no-look pass to Trocheck from one side board to the other with Trocheck picking up the puck 45 feet away in stride.

Trocheck zipped into the Lightning zone, froze goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and ripped a shot that tied the score at 1. Jokinen later scored his second goal in as many games to put the Lightning away.

“It feels so easy right now it’s tough to explain,’’ Jokinen said. “When things are going good, it feels so natural. When they’re not, you feel helpless.’’

In March, the trio have combined for 17 goals and 24 assists. None of them want April to hit come Friday, although once it does, the playoffs will be right around the corner.

If things stand up, the Panthers will hold a top seed in the Eastern Conference and likely open the postseason at home on April 14.

“At this time of the year, you really want everything to be gelling,’’ Smith said. “Every game is different, but it feels like each night we’ve connected pretty well. You just hope it keeps going this way but we know teams are focusing on us more. But this is a good feeling.”

MITCHELL PRACTICES

Defenseman and team captain Willie Mitchell continues to skate and stay in shape in case he decides to return to the Panthers. Mitchell, 38, has sustained numerous concussions over the past few years and doctors have advised him to not come back.

On Monday, Mitchell not only participated in the full workout — and has been “skating his butt off” as one coach put it — but gathered his teammates and gave what appeared to be an emotional speech.

Mitchell, 38, apparently did not tell his teammates which way he was leaning, but did tell them some doctors are concerned about his health, as general manager Dale Tallon told the Miami Herald last week.

Tallon said the decision to return ultimately belongs to Mitchell.

“[Mitchell] said he’s taking it day-by-day and not looking too far into the future,’’ fellow defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said. “He’s trying to stay positive, doesn’t want to be a distraction to us.

“It’s nice to see him practicing, I would love to see him in the playoffs. He’s obviously trying. He’s not the kind of guy who gives up.”

Mitchell is apparently in good enough physical shape to return to the lineup but doctors are concerned another blow to his head could be extremely dangerous.

▪ Both Derek MacKenzie and Erik Gudbranson sustained fractured bones while blocking shots with their skate and both should be in the lineup this week — and perhaps even Tuesday against Toronto.

▪ Free agent defenseman Linus Hultstrom, 23, has agreed to sign with the Panthers now that his season in the Swedish Elite League is over. Hultstrom could start in the minors before making his way to Florida.

Tuesday: Maple Leafs at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210

Series: Toronto leads 34-32-7

Scouting report: The Panthers are 2-0 against Toronto this season and have won eight of their past 10 against the Leafs. Toronto is playing its third game in four days as it played in Tampa on Monday night. The teams conclude the season series next Monday in Toronto.

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