Good morning and welcome to “Cats & Coffee,” a weekly segment in which we get you caffeinated with an exciting look at the week ahead for the Florida Panthers.
The Florida Panthers have a great opportunity to put some distance between themselves and their Eastern Conference competition this week when they visit the playoff-bound New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.
As they prepare to embark on their second-to-last road trip of the regular season, the Panthers currently lead Tampa Bay by two points for first place in the Atlantic Division and Boston by three points with a game in hand.
“It’s important,” center Nick Bjugstad said of the road trip. “We keep saying every two points is important here, but literally everyone is climbing at each other’s necks. We can’t worry about what other teams are doing. We’ve got to worry about ourselves and stay focused here. We’ve got a three-game road trip and then we’ll be back at home after that.”
After blowing a pair of two-goal leads against the Islanders and Red Wings last week, the Panthers know that they have a few bad habits that must be kicked before the playoffs begin, but are confident that the necessary adjustments will be made during the upcoming week.
“I think we’ve done a decent job of moving on,” Bjugstad said after Saturday’s 5-3 loss to Detroit. “We haven’t gotten too upset about the losses, but we definitely need to consider how we lost this game and the Islander game. Those were two games we had in our hands. I don’t know if we let our foot off the pedal or what it is, but it’s got to change, especially going into the stretch we’ve got going here… We’ve got to learn from this, grow from this, and definitely find ways to win on this road trip.”
Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead…
Monday: at New York Rangers, 7:00 p.m.
It’ll likely be a battle of quality over quantity when the Panthers battle the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, as both teams currently rank near the bottom of the league in shots per game. After splitting their first two meetings this season, Florida’s rubber match with the Rangers will come down to whether or not the Panthers can take advantage of New York’s 28th-ranked penalty killing unit, which is currently stifling just 77.3 percent of opponent’s power plays. Luckily, Florida’s power play is heating up at the right time, scoring at least one goal with the extra attacker in five of its last eight games.
Panthers vs. Rangers this season: 1-0-1
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) Thursday: at Boston Bruins, 7:00 p.m.
Although they boast the league’s fourth-ranked offense, the Bruins managed to score just three total goals during a winless three-game road trip to California last week. Still, the Bruins have had Florida’s number this season, winning all three meetings by a combined score of 11-6. If the Panthers hope to finally steal a win from Boston in what could inevitably prove to be a late-round playoff preview, they will need to find a way to shut down center Patrice Bergeron, who has six goals and five assists in his last eight games against Florida.Panthers vs. Bruins this season 0-2-1
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) Saturday: at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7:00 p.m.
In their final meeting of the regular season, the Panthers will look to increase the cushion between themselves and intrastate rival Tampa Bay, which currently trails Florida by a mere two points in the standings. The Lightning held a two-point lead in the Atlantic Division after winning their ninth in a row March 5, but have gone just 2-4-1 since. In this contest, the Panthers will most likely have their hands full with Tampa Bay’s red-hot center, Steven Stamkos, who has notched six points (4-2—6) in his last four games.
Panthers vs. Lightning this season: 3-1-0
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
KEEP AN EYE ONBjugstad is Back
The Panthers have a chance to be one of the deepest teams down the middle when the playoffs begin if third-line center Nick Bjugstad continues to rediscover the scoring stroke that helped him capture the team’s goal-scoring title in each of the last two seasons.
After netting just 10 goals in his first 53 games this season, Bjugstad’s stick has once again caught fire, resulting in three goals and three assists during his current five-game point streak.
“It’s coming a little bit,” said Bjugstad, who scored a goal and added an assist in Saturday's loss to the Red Wings. “I’ve just gotta keep the confident going. It’s a weird thing to explain, but you’ve got to work hard, I guess. Not think and skate - that’s about all I can do.”
Bjugstad, 23, has admittedly struggled since returning from an upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup the entire month of December, but is confident that the goals will continue to come thanks to a blossoming relationship with his post-trade deadline linemates, Teddy Purcell and Jiri Hudler.
“I’m definitely pretty lucky to have them on my line,” said Bjugstad. “It’s fun playing with them. They’re good playmakers. I feel like we’re gelling off the ice and on the ice, so it’s good.”College Cats
On Sunday, the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee announced the 16 teams that will be participating in the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship.
As always, the Panthers look to be well represented in the annual tournament, with five of the organization’s up-and-coming prospects attempting to bring home this year’s championship.
These prospects include: 2015 sixth-round pick Chris Wilkie (North Dakota), 2014 fourth-round pick Joe Wegwerth (Notre Dame), 2013 second-round pick Ian McCoshen (Boston College), 2013 fourth-round pick Michael Downing (Michigan) and 2014 fourth-round pick Evan Cowley (Denver).
The championship format involves four predetermined regional sites with four teams assigned to each site. It is a single elimination tournament, with four regional winners earning the right to advance to the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., April 7-9, for a chance to claim college hockey’s ultimate prize.Good luck, boys!
Get ‘em While They’re Hot!
With only four home games remaining in the regular season, there’s no doubt that the Panthers will be one of the hottest tickets in South Florida when they return to the BB&T Center next week.
Although they’ve already had several sellouts crowds this season, the organization recently set a new franchise record for single-game attendance during the regular season when 20,817 fans descended upon Sunrise to watch the Panthers battle the Red Wings on Saturday.
"It's fun seeing all the fans,” center Nick Bjugstad said of the increasing fan support. “You get adrenaline when they're cheering. That's going to help us down the stretch"
- Jaromir Jagr has 15 points (7-8—15) in his last 15 contests.
- Teddy Purcell recorded the 100th goal of his NHL career in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to Detroit.
- Jussi Jokinen leads the Panthers with 21 primary assists this season.
- Vincent Trocheck has nine points (3-6—9) in his last seven contests.
- The Panthers are 9-0-0 in games in which Reilly Smith records at least two points.