It's a big week before the Winter Games break!
With the Panthers returning home after spending seven of the last eight games on the road, including the last four straight, this week sets up to be huge with three games before the “NHL Shutdown” Olympic break.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, two of the league's "Original 6" franchises return to South Florida. It's the last two home games before the NHL sends their stars to Sochi, each seeking a precious gold medal.
As Atlantic Division rivals, Toronto (Tuesday) and Detroit (Thursday) provide the Panthers with compelling home games. Florida split the first two games in Toronto and have earned six out of a possible eight points through the first four meetings (3-1-0) against the boys from the Motor City.
After Aleksander Barkov’s four-game lower body injury absence, the Cat’s “Killer B” line is re-united, hoping to provide the needed offense. The Brad Boyes, Sean Bergenheim and Barkov trio have combined for 12 goals and 24 points in their last 14 games together.
Toronto comes to town tomorrow as the NHL’s hottest team. They are 10-1-1 in their last 12 games. Led by the NHL’s January 2nd Star of the Month, Phil Kessel, the Olympic Team USA and Maple Leaf sniper invades the BB&T Center having scorched the Ottawa Senators (a hat trick), Panthers (two assists) and the Lightning (game-winning assist) in his last three games.
The injury riddled Red Wings limp into Sunrise currently on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff window, which Detroit has participated in the last 22nd consecutive and impressive years. Expect both top Wing centermen Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterburg to suit up, fully healed from nagging post-Christmas injuries. Keep an eye on young superstar Gustav Nyquist, Detroit’s multi-talented forward. The 24-year old Swede recorded his first NHL career Hat Trick on Sunday, finishing up his last eight games with 12 points over that stretch. Currently not on the Swedish Team Olympic roster, that could change once the final rosters are frozen.
The Panthers currently sport a 9-11-1 record in the Atlantic Division with two more this week. A .500 inter-division record before the Olympic break would definitely be a welcome sight. Hope to see everyone this week at the BB&T Center before enjoying the Winter Olympics!