Sitting atop the league standings, the Florida Panthers cannot ignore the rival Tampa Bay Lightning breathing down their neck. Florida possesses a remarkable 23-7-5 record through 35 games, boasting the NHL’s second-best point percentage, only behind the Carolina Hurricanes. Though the Panthers’ first half of the season demonstrates few blemishes, this is a campaign where the President’s Trophy appears like a potential accomplishment. The team must keep the foot on the gas pedal to reach that goal. A successful team has no better opportunity to keep accruing points than an extended time in their home arena. Luckily for the Panthers, they play their next three contests on home ice at the FLA Live Arena.
Heading into Tuesday, Florida is 6-3-1 in their last ten games but 4-0-1 in their previous five, suffering their only loss to the Dallas Stars in overtime last Thursday. The Panthers have a chance at redemption when they host the Stars Friday, but first, they must focus on the Vancouver Canucks, who come to town Tuesday. After Friday’s contest, Florida will play in the back-end of a back-to-back against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
For the Panthers, all signs point to the return of two key roster pieces as both Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart look to re-enter the lineup Tuesday. Bennett returns after serving his three-game suspension, while Reinhart returns after exiting Covid protocol. Both are expected to slot back into crucial spots in the lineup and make immediate impacts.
At one point, the Vancouver game appeared like the one you circle on the calendar as an easy win (if there is such a thing anymore). However, the Canucks look like a completely different team under Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, going 8-1-1 in their last ten games and slowly creeping their way up the Western Conference standings. The Panthers are the superior team in goal production and look to make it challenging to keep up with their scoring prowess. Still, Florida is in for a test against a team continuing to assert themselves as a genuine threat moving forward.
Similar to Vancouver, Dallas finds itself experiencing a bit of an upward trend, winning four of their last five. Of course, the Stars are fresh on Florida’s mind, losing to them under a week ago in overtime. The Panthers will have plenty of rest time between Tuesday and Friday, giving them ample time to enter the Dallas game fresh and ready for redemption. The Stars, suffering a loss in their last matchup to St. Louis, play the Seattle Kraken Wednesday before heading to Sunrise. Either way, this game has the potential to be another battle.
Even though it falls on the day after their contest against Dallas, the Panthers will get a slight breather, in terms of competition, Saturday against the 16-16-1 Blue Jackets. Columbus is 3-6-1 through their last ten and is beginning to come back down to earth after their surprisingly decent start to the year. Of course, there are no easy games in the NHL, but this is a showdown the Panthers should win.
In some other good news, it appears as though Mason Marchment is close to returning, skating for the first time Tuesday since getting added to the Covid list. Head Coach Andrew Brunette declared him unavailable for Tuesday’s game, but there is a chance the Panthers get him back at some point during this homestand. With the next game not until Friday, it seems likely Marchment is ready to go against Dallas.
Thirty-five games into their 2021-22 season, the Florida Panthers are cementing themselves as one of the genuine contenders this year. When you reach that level, you are expected to come out victorious night in and night out. The Panthers’ opponents over this three-game homestand are nothing to scoff at. Still, the expectation in Florida is to win, no matter the challenger.