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Cats & Coffee - March 28

by Jameson Olive / Florida Panthers


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 can taste the playoffs.

After closing out a three-game road trip with key victories over the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, the Panthers enter this week’s slate with a two-point cushion atop the Atlantic Division and only seven games remaining in what has already been a remarkable regular season.

“We got two weeks left on our schedule and we got to make sure we're playing well,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “First things first, get into the playoffs… We feel pretty good about our club right now.”

With their fifth playoff appearance in franchise history, as well as a second division title, well within their grasp, the Panthers will host three non-playoff teams looking to play spoiler in the coming week, as the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens all prepare to make their final visits to the BB&T Center this season.

And although they own a 10-2-0 record against their remaining opponents this season, the Panthers are well aware that, despite the fact their road to the postseason isn’t necessarily fraught with danger, it’s important to not to overlook their competition down the home stretch.

“There are no easy games in this league, it doesn't matter what position you're in,” goaltender Roberto Luongo said of the upcoming schedule. “We played a lot of these teams not too long ago, a tough run. We still got to keep collecting points, we haven't clinched anything. We're obviously trying to win the division and get home-ice. The key is to take it one game at a time and not look too far ahead.”

Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead…

THE GAMES


Tuesday: Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:30 p.m.


It’ll be a battle of two teams on the opposite end of the Atlantic Division standings when the last-place Maple Leafs visit the first-place Panthers on Tuesday at BB&T Center. Florida has won seven of its last eight games against Toronto, scoring an average of 4.00 goals per game. In recent weeks, however, the Maple Leafs have managed to elevate their play, winning five of seven games thanks in large part to the effort of rookie forwards William Nylander and Zach Hyman. Nylander, who Toronto selected with the eighth overall pick in 2014, has five points (2-3—5) in his last four games.

Panthers vs. Maple Leafs this season: 2-0-0
TV: FSF

Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)



Thursday: New Jersey Devils, 7:30 p.m.


The Panthers will be hoping to get the best of an unfamiliar foe when they likely draw rookie goaltender Scott Wedgewood in Thursday’s contest against the Devils at the BB&T Center. Wedgewood, who made his NHL debut March 20, has been filling in admirably since starter Cory Schneider sustained a lower-body injury, posting a 2-1-1 record with a 1.24 goals-against-average and a .957 save percentage in four starts. And although the 23-year-old recently dropped back-to-back games after winning the first two games of his NHL career, he is expected to remain New Jersey’s starter until Schneider returns.

Panthers vs. Devils this season 1-1-0
TV: FSF
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)


Saturday: Montreal Canadiens, 7:00 p.m.


The No. 3 will likely play a big role in deciding who comes out victorious when the Panthers host the Canadiens on Saturday at the BB&T Center. Montreal, which has lost four of its last five, has allowed three goals or more in 36 of 53 games without injured goaltender Carey Price this season. The Panthers, meanwhile, are 31-2-3 when scoring three-or-more goals in regulation this season. So who will be making sure Florida lights the lamp at least three times in this contest? Well, it’s a safe bet that Jonathan Huberdeau will likely be involved in one way or another, as the 22-year-old winger has tallied nine assists during his current seven-game point streak against Montreal.

Panthers vs. Canadiens this season: 2-0-0
TV: FSF
Radio: English: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beaches); 97.7 WAVK (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)


KEEP AN EYE ON


Trocheck Stays Hot

When the Panthers found themselves trailing 1-0 early in Saturday’s contest at Tampa Bay, once again it was the play of up-and-coming center Vincent Trocheck that brought the team back to life.

Not long after Tyler Johnson had put the Lightning ahead early on the power play, Trocheck got the Panthers even at 1 with a wicked wrister over the shoulder of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy to extended his goal-scoring streak to four straight games at 13:36 of the first.

Trocheck, who is tied with Jaromir Jagr for the team lead in goals with 25, has been one of Florida’s most reliable offensive weapons in recent weeks, registering 15 points (6-9—15) in 12 games this month. In the midst of his third NHL season, the 22-year-old firecracker has proven to be a dynamic force in the offensive zone and is a threat to rack up multiple points on any given night.

"I think he's the biggest surprise of the season," Jagr recently said of Trocheck. "I'm really enjoying the way he's playing. It's not all about the goals. The coaches are giving him a lot of responsibility and he is doing well with it."

Frozen Four Bound

After a wild weekend of regional action, the field for the 2016 Men's Frozen Four in Tampa is set, with North Dakota, Boston College, Denver and Quinnipiac all heading to Amalie Arena, April 7-9, for a chance to compete for college hockey’s top prize.

The Panthers currently have three prospects still competing in this year’s tournament, as forward Chris Wilkie (North Dakota), defenseman Ian McCoshen (Boston College) and goaltender Evan Cowley (Denver) all advanced.

This year’s Frozen Four looks to certainly be one for the ages, as three of the six teams with the most all-time Frozen Four appearances are in the field: Boston College leads all teams with 25, while North Dakota has 22 and Denver has 14.

Luckily for Panthers fans, there is guaranteed to be at least one prospect representing the franchise in this year’s championship game, as Boston College faces Quinnipiac (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and North Dakota battles Denver (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in the semifinals on April 7.

The winner of each semifinal game will advance to the National Championship on April 9 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

INTERESTING STATS

  • At 42-24-9, the Panthers are one win and five points away from tying their franchise mark for victories and points.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau surpassed the 50-point plateau for the second consecutive season with two points in Saturday’s victory over Tampa Bay.
  • With a goal in Saturday’s victory over the Lightning, Jaromir Jagr reached the 25-goal mark for the 18th time in his storied career.
  • Jussi Jokinen has four multi-point games this March.
  • Jiri Hudler has five goals in 12 games since joining the Panthers.
  • The Panthers are 26-8-4 when they hold their opponent without a power-play goal.


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