Why the Panthers think time off is good, even in the midst of a five-game winning streak

The first five-game postseason winning streak in Florida Panthers history was crammed into nine days, required three flights to three different cities and three comebacks, including a pair of overtime, and saw the Panthers win three times as they were eliminated.

By the end, Florida was running on fumes and adrenaline.

“Coaches, we wear suits. We don’t take service. We’re not blocking a shot. I’m tired this morning,” coach Paul Maurice said Friday, less than 12 hours after the Panthers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs for their fifth straight win. “I don’t know how those guys do it.”

After its first two-day break in nearly two weeks, Florida was finally able to reset and refresh before hosting the Maple Leafs for Game 3 on Sunday at Sunrise.

“I finally woke up this morning with a pretty good feeling,” said left winger Carter Verhaeghe.

It’s a potentially pivotal moment in this round two streak, especially if the way Round 1 turned out is any indication.

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In their first-round series with the Bruins, the Panthers lost three of their first four games, then got two days off before the series moved to Boston for Game 5 and everything turned. Florida won three consecutive elimination games, including Game 7 last Sunday, to pull off one of the biggest upsets in NHL history. The Panthers then jumped on a flight to Toronto and twice defeated the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena to take a commanding lead in Round 2.

Now they only play once every five days, with two days off for Game 3 and then two more days off for Game 4 on Wednesday at the FLA Live Arena.

“Our gas tank was maybe half full after Game 2 and maybe they had two days off before that, so maybe they were at three-quarters of a tank. Both teams may fill the tank. They’re even,” Maurice said. “I don’t think we have an advantage over them. We pretty much end up with the same starting point.”

The odd schedule will present Florida with some challenges, but also, given the style it plays, some advantages.

The Panthers’ challenge is to try and maintain what they’ve accomplished over the past two weeks. Florida’s five-game winning streak was only the second of the season, accomplished by defeating the Presidents’ Trophy winners three times and another Stanley Cup contender twice. The Panthers don’t want to lose the magic they’ve found.

“There are many highs and lows. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster,” says Verhaeghe. “We found part of the game plan and I think that’s kind of what we do is try to stick to it during the highs and lows.”

However, the benefits may outweigh these concerns.

Florida wins by using one of the most aggressive forechecks in the league, playing with unrelenting effort and physicality to force giveaways into the opposing defensive zone and convert them into quick goals. All three of the Panthers’ goals on Thursday came from the vanguard, and so did Verhaeghe’s game-winning goal in overtime in Game 7 of the first round last week.

“Two days is good for us. We had a two day block after Game 4 in the Boston series. We needed it,” said Maurice. “For a forechecking team, a little rest helps. … We need to keep this team fresh.

Florida Panthers left wing Grigori Denisenko (14) passes the puck as Minnesota Wild defenseman Jon Merrill (4) defends in the second period at the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, FL on Saturday, January 21, 2023.

Panthers summon AHL players

AHL Charlotte’s season ended with a loss to AHL Hershey in the second round of the 2023 Calder Cup playoffs, but the year isn’t over for nearly a dozen of its best players.

The Panthers called up nine players from the Charlotte Checkers this weekend to provide extra depth for the remainder of the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs. After calling up defenseman Lucas Carlsson on Saturday, Florida defensemen Matt Kiersted, John Ludvig and Calle Sjalin, and forwards Grigory Denisenko, Aleksi Heponiemi, Connor Bunnaman and Patrick Giles, as well as goaltenders Mack Guzda and Evan Fitzpatrick, on Sunday.

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In all likelihood, none of these nine newcomers will fit into the Cup playoffs, but they will give the Panthers some extra bodies in practice and gain valuable NHL experience by competing in a playoff run.

Four of these newcomers have also played in NHL games this season: Kiersted had four points in 20 games, Denisenko had three points in 18 games, Heponiemi had three points in 10 games, and Carlsson also played in two games.

None are particularly highly regarded as a prospect, although Denisenko, 22, was a first pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Originally published

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