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With help from fans, Panthers hope to continue to shine on home ice

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The Florida Panthers have been red hot on home ice in the early goings of the 2017-18 season, jumping out to a 3-1-0 record behind a staggering 21 goals scored through their first four home games.

"A game's a game regardless wherever you are, but whenever you can play at your home arena with the fans on your side it helps a lot," forward Nick Bjugstad said after Friday's practice at the Panthers IceDen. "It's definitely been helping us. We're off to a good start."

Florida kicked off its current five-game homestand at the BB&T Center with an 8-3 beat down of the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, scoring eight-or-more goals for just the eighth time in the franchise's 24-year history.

"That's what we talked about, taking advantage of this homestand that we have," head coach Bob Boughner said. "We've had a pretty tough schedule in October, but we want to make sure that when we get into November we get over that .500 mark and start climbing a little bit."

The Panthers (4-5-0) will look to gain yet another foothold in their climb up the standings on Saturday, when the downtrodden Detroit Red Wings pay a visit to Sunrise in the midst of a six-game losing streak. After that, Florida will host the Tampa Bay Lighting, Columbus Blue Jackets and the New York Rangers before hitting the road again.

"We want to be a strong team at home," defenseman Alex Petrovic said. "When teams come in here, we want them to know they're going to have a tough night. I thought we established that pretty well last night [against Anaheim]. We've got four more games here in this homestand, so we've just got to keep moving in that direction."

In a league where the difference between a team's home and away records are traditionally very thin, Petrovic said that the biggest advantage between playing at home as opposed to the road -- other than sleeping in your own bed, of course - is the energy that the fans can add to each and every play.

"It's unreal," he said. "It provides that extra element for us, especially when we get home from a long road trip and just want to play in front of our fans. We want the building to be loud and exciting. Everyone builds off that. We should have a good night against Detroit."

The immense effect fans can have on games was evident when a crowd of 16,871 rocked the BB&T Center during Florida's home opener, their endless cheers and chants fueling the Panthers to a thrilling 5-4 victory over intrastate rival Tampa Bay on Oct. 7.

"Opening Night here was unbelievable for us," said center Vincent Trocheck, who is tied for the team lead in goals (4) and points (10). "When you hear the crowd rocking it kind of gets your adrenaline pumping a little bit more and it gets you a little more excited to play the game. When it's empty, it's quiet. We have a great team here and the fans that we have are diehard fans.

"Once we get into a little more of rhythm and start winning more games, we know that the other fans will start rolling in and see how much fun this team can have and how awesome the rink is and the establishment we have."

In 2015-16, the Panthers averaged 15,384 fans per game as the South Florida community hopped on board the hype train en route to the team's fifth playoff appearance in franchise history. That season, Petrovic says, Florida's home-ice advantage, which was evidenced by an Atlantic Division-leading 25-11-5 record at home, was thanks in large part to the fans that came out to show their support.

"I've been here for the past 5-6 years now and I've seen it all, the highs and the lows," Petrovic said. "When we're a winning team, we get a lot of fans coming out and a lot of support from everyone around town - well, I guess I should say from around the territory now. I think if we just keep going in this direction, we're going to get more and more supporters. It's another reason for us to show up and play hard for our fans."

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