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Cats' Coffee No. 1

by Jameson Olive / Florida Panthers

Good morning and welcome to the first installment of “Cat’s Coffee,” a weekly segment in which we keep you caffeinated with an exciting look at the week ahead for the Florida Panthers.

The Florida Panthers remain atop the Atlantic Division after an historic weekend in which they became the first team in more than 25 years to defeat the Stanley Cup finalists from the previous season on consecutive days.

One night after shutting out the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks 4-0, the Panthers showed no signs of fatigue as they ended the Tampa Bay Lightning’s seven-game winning streak with a 5-2 victory in front of a sellout crowd at the BB&T Center on Sunday.

RECAP: Panthers shut out Blackhawks 4-0

RECAP: Panthers down Lightning 5-2

“They’ve been playing real well,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Both teams were on good winning streaks, they were coming in our building, and we had to play great hockey to beat those two teams.”

With back-to-back victories over two of the league’s best teams, the Panthers believe they’ve moved past the sluggish play that plagued them during the four-game losing streak that followed the conclusion of their franchise-record 12-game winning streak.

With the Toronto Maple Leafs visiting on Tuesday, however, the Panthers held off on their celebrations after Saturday's victory, understanding that there is still one more hurdle to overcome before the majority of the team can enjoy a well-deserved break over the All-Star Weekend.

“Toronto is going to come in here with the same mindset that we’re going to have,” said winger Reilly Smith. “There’s one game left (before the break) and they’re going to put everything on the line.”

Here are a few things to keep an eye on in the upcoming week…

RED-HOT REILLY


What’s gotten into Reilly Smith? 

The 24-year-old winger extended his goal-scoring streak to three games on Sunday when he sent a pass intended for teammate Quinton Howden across the front of the net that hit the skate of Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman and found its way into the goal.



“I didn’t think I could score from that angle,” said Smith, who is currently tied with Jaromir Jagr for the team lead with 15 goals. “When you’re hot, you’re hot, I guess.”

With luck on his side, Smith will look to extend his goal-scoring streak to four games when the Panthers host the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. 

LUON-GOING THE DISTANCE

Already garnering buzz as a potential Vezina Trophy candidate, Roberto Luongo might have moved his name to the forefront of the conversation after stopping 65 of 67 shots against the a pair of high-powered offenses over the weekend.

Luongo's performance this season has him garnering attention as a potential Vezina candidate, too.


After shutting out the Blackhawks on Friday, Luongo extended his shutout streak to 127:09 before Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman scored a power-play goal at 5:39 of the third period in Saturday’s victory over Tampa Bay.

“We wanted to get back on the right track,” said Luongo. “We wanted to get back in the win column. We wanted to get some points and keep climbing (the standings). That was the key for our club going into these two games.”

Luongo, 36, has posted a 21-13-2 record with a 2.11 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in 36 starts this season. And despite starting on back-to-back nights for the first time this season, it’s possible that Luongo will get the nod in Florida’s final game before the All-Star break.

CAT-LANTIC DIVISON AT ALL-STAR WEEKEND

The Atlantic Division will have no shortage of feline representation at the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashvilleon Jan. 31, as a franchise-record four representatives will attend the event on behalf of the Panthers.

Related: Four Panthers named All-Stars

In addition to fan-voted captain Jaromir Jagr, defenseman Aaron Ekblad and goaltender Roberto Luongo will compete in the 3-on-3 All-Star Tournament comprised of three 20-minute games played by divisional all-star teams competing for a winner-take-all $1 million prize.

Additionally, thanks to the Panthers being in first place in their division at the halfway point of the season, Gerard Gallant will be joining Florida’s talented trio of skaters as the head coach of the Atlantic Division.

It will be the first time the Panthers have had more than two skaters at the All-Star Game since 2000, when Pavel Bure, Viktor Kozlov and Ray Whitney were selected.

Look for FloridaPanthers.com’s All-Star Weekend preview on Thursday and keep it tuned to our website and social media for behind the scenes content and coverage from Nashville!
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