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Lessons For The Road

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers
Florida enters Tuesday night's game with a 16-15-5 record away from the BankAtlantic Center (Getty Images).

The Panthers touched down in Montreal late Monday afternoon to begin a crucial four-game road trip.

With the team set to be in close quarters for the next six days, head coach Kevin Dineen gave his players the morning off to recharge the batteries and spend time with the family before leaving for the trip.

Florida looks to get back on track after having fallen in their last three games, including their last two at home via the shootout. The Panthers (currently with 87 points) have seven games left on the schedule. Five come away from the BankAtlantic Center.

"It's a game of bounces," lamented Dineen following the Panthers most recent loss, a 3-2 setback to the Islanders on Sunday. "We had some really good opportunities down the stretch. I don't walk out of here like I did the other night against Edmonton. I felt like that was a game that we weren't as assertive and I think we had that brand of hockey tonight. That's what we're going to continue to need."

Those bounces that Dineen speaks of can be seen in the third period of Sunday's game. Up a goal in the third thanks to Tomas Fleischmann's 24th of the season, the Islanders pushed the puck up the ice. Kyle Okposo sent what looked like a relatively harmless shot on goal. Skating back to defend a crashing Mark Streit, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was in perfect position. Defensively, he was but the Okposo shot hit Kulikov's stick and deflected past Jose Theodore for the tying goal.

For the Panthers, the team has to play just like their opponents have. Despite both Edmonton and New York out of the playoff chase and playing the night before, the teams, along with Carolina on Wednesday night, have played a loose game, attacking more times than not.

"We felt like two teams that were completely out of it but we have to realize as a team that the pride and the parity of this league is right there," said defenseman Ed Jovanovski. "We have to be ready to go every night."

"It was tough playing against loose teams like Edmonton and the Islanders are," said Fleischmann. "They don't feel fear of losing 2-1 so they go up the ice. They always feel that they can score and that's what they did. Next thing you know it's a tied game."

"It's a loose hockey club," said center Stephen Weiss, specifically of the Islanders. "They're playing loose and those teams are tough to play against sometimes because you don't know really what to expect or how to prepare for them.

"Obviously we have to find a way to get two points."

Playing loose on the road can't be confused with playing relaxed however.

"I don't think you can relax any more right now. It's the end of the season," said Fleischmann. "We're a tight group right now because Washington is coming after us for the playoffs. It's a fight right now. It's good to be a little bit nervous and I think we're going to prove it on the road."

With Washington's victory over Minnesota Sunday, the Panthers are just three points up in the division race. They do however have a game in hand.

The first three games of the road trip are against teams that are out of the playoffs. Montreal sits 15th in the Eastern Conference while Minnesota (13th) and Columbus (15th) are out of the playoff picture in the West. Playing in the opposing team's barns, the Panthers have to come out with a strong opening period and get a goal or two. That will hopefully jump start the offense once again.

"You have to have jump this time of year. If you don't have jump now then something is missing," said Weiss. "You just have to find ways to score some goals. We're not scoring enough goals. Whatever that is, whatever the formula is, we have to find a way to put the puck in the net and get some more run support for our goalies because they're playing great. We just have to find some ways to score some goals. We're getting chances but just not bearing down."

"We have to find a way to worry about Montreal right now," said Jovanovski. "It's going to be a tough building to play in regardless of where they are in the standings. It's an emotionally loud crowd who will be into it. (We) have to get a jump on them early."

In the best essence though, the Panthers have to look at it like they are the underdogs and not the teams that should just be given the win because of where they are in the standings.

"Lesson learned," said Dineen.
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