SUNRISE – The Panthers return Saturday evening to BankAtlantic Center in immediate need of two things:
2: A positive start to a critical, five-game homestand.
After losing road games earlier this week in Pittsburgh and Buffalo against teams they’re fighting with for a playoff spot, the Panthers must regroup and put together a string of victories.
For the Panthers, ninth in the Eastern Conference, there’s no better time than right now. They get to stay home for 10 days and play five huge games at BankAtlantic Center, where they’re 18-9-5.
In fact, after playing seven of their last nine games on the road, the Panthers will play nine of their remaining 14 games at BankAtlantic Center.
Of the 14 games remaining, five will be against teams they are directly battling with for a playoff spot: the Sabres, Hurricanes, Penguins and Flyers (twice). Two more games will be against the Southeast Division-leading Capitals. The Panthers will also play the Lightning, Senators, Stars, Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs and Thrashers (twice).
With five points separating fifth-from-10th in the Eastern Conference, coach Peter DeBoer has repeated that victories won’t elicit parties and losses aren’t a cause for funerals.
But DeBoer has also said that there can be no prolonged losing streaks.
The good news: The Panthers haven’t lost consecutive games in regulation since Dec. 29-31. The bad news: They lost three points this week to the rival Penguins and Sabres.
In the words of Radek Dvorak after Thursday’s 3-1 loss in Buffalo: “Every time you lose a game like this, it’s bad for us.”
The Panthers, playing without Nathan Horton (finger) and Bryan McCabe (nose), will have to do better come the start of their games over the final month.
Since Feb. 24, when they allowed a goal just :48 into the first period at Boston, the Panthers have found themselves down 1-0 in seven of their last nine games. In five of those games, however, the Panthers have allowed the first goal within the opening 3:04, and in six of those games have allowed the first goal within the first seven minutes.
Playing catch-up every night can eventually wear a team down, and they won’t want to do that beginning Saturday evening against the Lightning, who, while out of the playoffs, are far from pushovers.
They’re 2-2-2 in the month of March and still have two of the most skilled players in the league in Vinny Lecavalier (28 goals, 36 assists) and Martin St. Louis (25 goals, 42 assists). The Lightning also have Ryan Malone (24 goals), Vaclav Prospal (42 points) and rookie Steven Stamkos, who has nine goals in his last 14 games.
The Lightning also have a couple former Panthers on the blue line in Cory Murphy and Noah Welch.NOTESMichal Repik
, who scored the Panthers only goal Thursday, was sent back to the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, wound up with 3:50 of ice time. Repik, who scored a goal in his first game with the Panthers back in December, had 11 goals and 11 assists in his previous 20 games in Rochester…Tomas Vokoun’s glove save on Thomas Vanek was No. 3 on ESPN’s Plays of the Day…During a 5-on-3 Panther power play Thursday in the third period, Jaroslav Spacek blocked two shots by defenseman Jay Bouwmeester that played a huge part in the Panthers demise…The Panthers are ranked seventh in penalty killing, but their power play is languishing at 26th…