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Cats & Coffee: 1st-Place Panthers Preparing for 'Tough, Tough Trip'

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Good morning and welcome to "Cats & Coffee," a weekly segment, presented by Koffee Kult, in which we serve up an exciting look at what's on deck for your Florida Panthers. Like our friends at Koffee Kult, this forecast serves up only the best -- so sit back, sip and enjoy our latest brew of news, notes and information.

We're 39 games into the season and the Panthers sit alone atop the NHL standings.

Entering this week riding a season-long winning streak, the red-hot Cats picked up their sixth straight win in convincing fashion in front of a passionate home crowd on Sunday, sweeping their four-game homestand with a dominant 3-0 victory over the Blue Jackets at BB&T Center.

In the win, Aleksander Barkov, Frank Vatrano and Gustav Forsling all found the back of the net, while Chris Driedger denied all 32 shots he faced to earn his second clean sheet of the season.

"You can see that everyone in our locker room is having fun doing this, coming to the rink and playing games and giving everything that you have in the game," Barkov said of Florida's hot stretch. "That's why we're having success. Everyone enjoys it and everyone is having fun."

Looking to keep the good times rolling, the Panthers will now take their show on the road.

Starting on April 6 and running all the way through April 17, the Panthers will soon embark on their longest trip of the season. With a chance to further solidify their place in the playoffs, this six-game trek within the Central Division features stops in Carolina, Dallas and Tampa Bay.

As of right now, the Panthers (26-9-4) hold a two-point lead over the Lighting (26-10-2) for the top spot in the division, while also owning a three-point cushion over the Hurricanes (25-9-3).

By the time the Cats return home, there will be only 11 games left in their regular season.

"We've got a tough, tough trip," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "They're all important games against some of the best teams in our division. Let's fine-tune it as we go along here. It's an extensive trip. Let's have some fun on it by doing the right things and hopefully getting off to a positive start."

Here's everything you need to know for the week ahead…

THE GAMES

Tuesday and Thursday: at Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET

The Panthers will look to increase the gap between themselves and the Hurricanes (25-9-3) when the two teams meet on Tuesday and Thursday at PNC Arena. Entering the week just three points behind Florida for the top spot in the Central Division, Carolina has won five of its last seven games, including blanking the Stars by a score of 1-0 on Sunday. Playing them tight all season long, the Panthers have dropped three of four games against the Hurricanes thus far, but have earned a point in all four games, losing twice in overtime and once in a shootout. Up front, Sebastian Aho leads Carolina with 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists), but has been held off the scoresheet in each of his last four games. Just under him, Dougie Hamilton ranks second with 30 points (four goals, 26 assists), while Vincent Trocheck sits in third with 29 (14 goals, 15 assists). Between the pipes, Petr Mrazek only just returned to action after missing more than two months with an injury. In his first start back, he turned aside all 28 shots he faced in a 1-0 win over Dallas on Sunday. For the Panthers, look for Aleksander Barkov to lead the charge in these matchups. Only just returning from an injury himself, the 25-year-old center has notched three points (one goal, two assists) in his first two games back. Named the "Player of the Month" in the Central Division in March, he's tallied six goals and seven assists in his last eight games.

TV: Bally Sports Florida

Radio Tuesday: 560 WQAM (DADE/BROWARD); 850 WFTL (PALM BEACH); 100.3 WCTH (FLORIDA KEYS); 107.9 FM/1370 AM WZTA (TREASURE COAST) SIRIUSXM STREAMING CHANNEL 932

Radio Thursday: 560 WQAM (DADE/BROWARD); 640 WMEN (PALM BEACH); 100.3 WCTH (FLORIDA KEYS); 107.9 FM/1370 AM WZTA (TREASURE COAST) SIRIUSXM STREAMING CHANNEL 932

Saturday: at Dallas Stars, 2 p.m. ET

Enjoying a rare three-game week during this jampacked season, the Panthers will close out their week by kicking off a two-game set with the Stars (13-13-10) at American Airlines Center on Saturday. Fighting to stick around in the playoff hunt, Dallas has won two of its last three games to pull within five points of Nashville for fourth place in the Central Division. Helping keep the Stars season afloat, rookie goaltender Jake Oettinger has been doing an exceptional job of holding down the fort in net. Sitting at 6-4-6 on the season and helping Dallas earn at least one point in 12 of his 16 starts, the 22-year-old former first-round pick has gone 3-3-1 with a .926 save percentage over his last seven appearances. On attack, Joe Pavelski has been doing a lot of heavy lifting, leading the Stars in goals (15) and points (34). Also lending a hand, four players under him have registered at least 24 points: John Klingberg (25), Roope Hintz (24) and Jason Robertson (24). Not far removed from sweeping the Stars during a two-game set in Sunrise in March, the Panthers have taken four of five games in the season series thus far. Going for yet another win, Carter Verhaeghe is one player to definitely keep an eye on if you're a fan of the Cats. Sitting first on the team and tied for ninth in the league in goals with 17, the 25-year-old forward has tallied three goals and two assists in five games against Dallas this season.

TV: Bally Sports Florida

Radio: 560 WQAM (DADE/BROWARD); 850 WFTL (PALM BEACH); 100.3 WCTH (FLORIDA KEYS); 107.9 FM/1370 AM WZTA (TREASURE COAST) SIRIUSXM STREAMING CHANNEL 932

MILESTONE WATCH

Radko Gudas is one assist away from his 100th NHL assist.

Anthony Duclair is five assists away from his 100th NHL assist.

Keith Yandle is six points away from his 600th NHL point.

SUPPORTING A GOOD CAUSE

There's plenty of ways you can support the Florida Panthers Foundation.

By visiting FloridaPanthers.com/Foundation, fans can both purchase tickets for the next 50/50 Raffle or bid on unique autographed items such as jerseys, mystery pucks and so much more.

As a reminder, this is also your last day to bid on autographed Revere Retro jerseys!

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: Mystery pucks & #ReverseRetro jerseys back up for auction? You know it.All proceeds benefit our #FlaPanthers Foundation with the auction running through April 5!Buy or bid �� https://t.co/Poq8svWqye pic.twitter.com/HJfatkpRsB

DIVERSITY FOUNDATIONS

Teaming up with EVERFI and social justice nonprofit RISE, the Florida Panthers Foundation is working to bring more diversity and inclusion into classrooms with the launch of "Diversity Foundations" in more than 200 high schools throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Using EVERFI's "Diversity Foundations" program -- which includes resources from RISE - more than 20,000 students will be the first to receive this free and unique digital academic program.

"Sports can inspire a movement and create real change, and now it is again the time to use that power to unify our country to end racism," RISE CEO Diahann Billings-Burford said in a release. "It starts with education, and at RISE, we are equipping the sports community and youth leaders with the knowledge and tools to be advocates for racial equity and social justice.

"When organizations like the Panthers, who are committed to action, amplify this work, they play an essential role in bringing diverse communities together to achieve long-term impact. It is clear the Panthers are dedicated to taking meaningful steps that bring sustained change, and we're excited and proud to partner with them."

To learn more about "Diversity Foundations," click HERE.

PROSPECT SPOTLIGHT

With his WHL season finally underway, Justin Sourdif already has a heap of helpers.

Sitting second on the Vancouver Giants in scoring through four games, all seven of his points this season have come in the form of assists, including dishing out four of them during a 6-0 win over the Kelowna Rockets on March 28. The following game, the 19-year-old forward assisted on both the go-ahead goal and game-winning goal as the Giants edged the Victoria Royals by a score of 5-4 on March 30.

Tweet from @TheWHL: An aggressive forecheck on the PK from @FlaPanthers prospect Justin Sourdif gives Adam Hall a glorious chance that he converts!@WHLGiants | #REMAXHub pic.twitter.com/P22Iu45Rml

Taken in the third round (87th overall) by the Panthers in the 2020 NHL Draft, Sourdif is coming off an outstanding 2019-20 campaign in which he recorded a career-high 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists) in 57 games.

CATS CLIP OF THE WEEK

When you play more than 500 games in the NHL, you make a lot of friends.

Check out the clip below to see who congratulated Sergei Bobrovsky on his major milestone. 

Video: Bobrovsky 500 Games Congratulations

CATS IN THE COMMUNITY

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: We���re proud to welcome @BrowardHealth���s CEO & frontline workers to tonight���s game! pic.twitter.com/PCznoR6ft9

Tweet from @FlaPanthersCARE: Our #FlaPanthers School Supply Drive is underway with @FTLCityNews, @rotaryftl & @TwinPeaksLodge at @thebbtcenter. We appreciate all of your donations! 📒������ pic.twitter.com/vTyY32cDpa

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: .@roarcorps & Viktor E. Ratt joined the festivities today to help out our friends at @browardhealth for their Easter Egg Hunt Drive Thru event!Thanks for letting us tag along 🐀 pic.twitter.com/mUkgMoJDrv

TERRITORY TALK

On the latest episode of the Territory Talk podcast, Florida Hockey Now's George Richards joins the show to talk about the Panthers' playoff push, MacKenzie Weegar and much more!

COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)

-- Check out the latest mailbag from Panthers radio play-by-play man Doug Plagens.

-- Re-live Sunday's shutout win over the Blue Jackets with "5 Takeaways."

-- The Cats recently acquired forward Brad Morrison from Chicago.

-- Matt Kiersted was always destined to play for the Panthers.

-- Aleksander Barkov stepped into the national spotlight during the month of March.

-- Spencer Knight was elated after signing with entry-level contract with the Panthers.

-- There are some new theme nights coming up at BB&T Center, so mark your calendars.

-- Looking to come to a game? The Feltman's Value Back is both a great deal and delicious!

-- Mobile ordering is now available at BB&T Center. 

-- Make sure to sign up for the new "93 Society" newsletter.

-- There's plenty of amazing game-used items available right now at FLATeamShop.com.

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