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Cats and Coffee: Big Week Ahead

by Jameson Olive / FloridaPanthers.com

Huberdeau's power-play goal

DAL@FLA: Huberdeau wires a PPG past Lehtonen

Jonathan Marchessault sends a cross-ice feed to Jonathan Huberdeau, who buries the puck from the right circle for a power-play tally

  • 00:55 •

Good morning and welcome to "Cats & Coffee," a weekly segment presented by Community Coffee in which we get you caffeinated with an exciting look at the week ahead for the Florida Panthers.

It's now or never for the Florida Panthers.

With 18 games remaining in the regular season, the Panthers (29-24-11) enter the week trailing the New York Islanders by two points for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

After climbing back into the playoff race with a perfect 5-0-0 road trip last month, the Panthers have struggled to recapture that winning formula, losing five of their last six games, including a 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars late in regulation at the BB&T Center on Saturday night.

"You've just got to learn to stay with it, stay positive," said Panthers goaltender James Reimer, who stopped 32 of 34 shots in defeat. "Like I said, we've been playing some good hockey. When we were on the road we were getting the bounces and right now we're not quite getting them. Just like on the road you can't get to high, here you can't get too low. We'll get those shots that go off bodies and in, and we'll start rolling."

With unwavering confidence, the Panthers expect a few friendly bounces to finally go their way this upcoming week, as games against the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning present an opportunity to secure a few much needed points in a heated push for the postseason.

"It's too bad, but it is what it is," Reimer said. "We'll get back and we'll have a good game on Tuesday [against New York]."

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

THE GAMES

Tuesday: New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m.

The Panthers will look to get back to their winning ways when the Rangers (41-22-2) visit the BB&T Center on Tuesday. Florida, which defeated New York 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 20, will need its defense to be extremely sharp in this contest, as the Rangers currently own the league's fourth-ranked offense, scoring 3.18 goals per game on average. Luckily for the Panthers, James Reimer has been stellar in net as of late, allowing two-or-fewer goals in five of his last six starts.

Panthers vs. Rangers this season: 1-0-0
TV: FSF
English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast); Spanish: 990 WMYM (Dade/Broward; 760 WEFL (Palm Beach)

Friday: Minnesota Wild, 7:30 p.m.

The Panthers will likely face one of their toughest tests of the season when they battle the Central Division-leading Wild at the BB&T Center on Friday. One of the league's most well-rounded teams, Minnesota currently boasts the league's second-ranked offense (3.32 goals per game) and fourth-ranked defense (2.33 goals allowed per game). In this contest, look for Jonathan Huberdeau to be the one to lead Florida's offense to a big victory, as the 23-year-old winger has tallied four points (3-1-4) in his last five games.

Panthers vs. Wild this season 0-1-0
TV: FSF
English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast); Spanish: 990 WMYM (Dade/Broward; 760 WEFL (Palm Beach)

Saturday: at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:00 p.m.

The Panthers will only need to pack an overnight bag when they head across the Sunshine State for a quick one-game road trip against the Lightning (30-26-8) at the Amalie Arena on Saturday. The Panthers, who have already taken two of three from Tampa Bay this season, will need to remain disciplined and stay out of the penalty box in this contest, as the Lightning currently own the league's third-ranked power play (22.7 percent). That being said, the Panthers have proven to be extremely capable when down a man this season, as their top-ranked penalty-killing unit hasn't allowed a power play goal over the last 10 games.

Panthers vs. Lightning this season 2-0-1
TV: FSF
English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

BACK FROM THE DEAD

In a very groovy move -- and back by popular demand -- the Panthers will be hosting another Grateful Dead Tribute Night when they face-off against the Minnesota Wild on Friday at the BB&T Center.

The festivities will kick off with a pre-game performance by Grateful Dead tribute act Unlimited Devotion, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the New Times Bandstand in the Coors Light Cold Zone.

A portion of each ticket will be donated to the Rex Foundation, one of the Grateful Dead's favorite non-profit organizations, and a special limited edition jersey will be given out to fans that buy tickets for the game using the special promo code created just for Deadheads (Hint: the code is GRATEFUL).

Click HERE for tickets.

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: .@GratefulDead Night returns next week! �� �� https://t.co/5lTdht941H pic.twitter.com/fk7Okawbjz

CONSERVATION NIGHT

In an effort to help an animal that has long been more than just a mascot to the organization, the Panthers will hold a special Panther Conservation Night on Friday, when the Minnesota Wild visit the BB&T Center at 7:30 p.m.

The following Panther conservationists are partnering with the Florida Panthers Foundation to help preserve and bring awareness to the endangered Florida Panther this season: Andrew Hill Investment Advisors Inc., Florida International University, Friends of the Florida Panther Refuge, National Parks Conservation Association, National Park Service, Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society, U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, Fish & Wildlife Conservation and Zoo Miami.

"The Florida Panther is more than a mascot for us," said Executive Director of the Florida Panthers Foundation Lauren Simone. "We are proud to partner with passionate conservationists to raise awareness and support for our namesake."

If you are interested in supporting the Florida Panther, click HERE to purchase tickets, as a portion of all proceeds will go towards Panther conservation efforts.

Remember, use promo code: pantherconservation.

Tweet from @PalmBeachZoo: Proud to partner with @FlaPanthers for PANTHER CONSERVATION NIGHT: March 10! Sassy & friends are #MoreThanAMascot #ilovewpb #ThePalmBeaches pic.twitter.com/AdXu08yqPI

MILESTONE WATCH

- Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad is five points away from 100 for his career.

- Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr is seven games away from 1,700 for his career.

- Panthers forward Shawn Thornton is eight games away from 700 for his career.

- Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo needs two victories to surpass Curtis Joseph for sole possession of fourth place on the NHL's all-time wins list.

COLD COFFEE (IN CASE YOU MISSED IT)

-- The Panthers added two new players to their American Hockey League affiliate at last week's trade deadline, acquiring goaltender Adam Wilcox and defenseman Reece Scarlett. Read up on that and more in our latest prospect report.

-- The Panthers recently recalled goaltender Reto Berra from Springfield (AHL). 

-- In order to boost their playoff chances, the Panthers acquired veteran winger Thomas Vanek at last week's trade deadline. 

"The Panthers showed last year that they're capable of making the payoffs," Vanek said. "They're a young team with a lot of talent, a great d-core, solid goaltending. For me, it's exciting to join that team and make a push."

-- In his latest mailbag, Panthers rookie defenseman Mike Matheson answers questions about everything from music taste to his birthday plans.

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