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Andrew Brunette: The Florida Panthers special season has been ‘a joy’



Florida panthers
Anton Lundell, center, celebrates his second period goal with his Florida Panthers teammates during a 6-1 win at Little Caesars Arena on Sunday afternoon. — AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

The last time the Florida Panthers were in Detroit, their Hall of Fame coach had just resigned and no one was exactly sure how the talented team he was leaving behind would react.

Turns out, things have gone pretty well since.

Fantastic, even.

The Panthers have had some down times since Joel Quenneville’s October resignation but, for the most part, there have been a lot of sunny days for the Panthers this season.

It has been, as Andrew Brunette said after his team steamrolled the Red Wings 6-1 on Sunday afternoon, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Yes, these are special times in Pantherland.

“It is a lot of fun and I joke all the time, but I don’t know if you’ll ever be around a team like this,” Brunette said. “I just love watching them interact and am jealous I’m not playing. I am lucky enough to be a part of it. Their compete level … if you’re around them to see them day-in and day-out and see how hard they practice, how hard they compete, it has been a joy.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever see another group like this. It’s special and we have to keep going. We have a lot of hockey left and we’re just going day-by-day.”

This is a not a new sentiment from Brunette nor are people suddenly start thinking this is a special Florida team based on Sunday’s win in Detroit.

That was expected.

Florida, a heavy favorite against a tired and fading team, did exactly what was thought of them on Sunday afternoon.

No, this is a collective thought built throughout the season.

If you have not noticed this is a special season for the Panthers, well, you’re just not paying much attention.

Not only has Florida dominated its opponents for much of the year, but they have continued to do so after clinching the first spot in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.

Sunday’s win against the Red Wings was Florida’s 10th consecutive win, two away from the franchise record.

The Panthers are now two points back of first place in the entire NHL and can clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference sometime this week.

”We’re bringing it every night,’’ Brunette said.

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The way the Panthers have played for much of this season was on full display on Sunday.

Florida was held scoreless in the first period but began rolling in waves in the second, scoring four goals to take complete control of the game.

”It’s to fun to watch because we have a good bunch of guys and a good team,” Spencer Knight said.

The Panthers are the highest scoring team in the NHL by a large margin, putting up some of the best numbers the game has seen in years.

Florida goes into Tuesday night’s game against the Islanders as the lone NHL team which has scored over 300 goals and is averaging over four goals per game.

“It has been so much fun playing on this team,” said rookie Anton Lundell, who scored twice Sunday. “Every game, we have a great chance to win. We just have to play our game. It’s tough to win in this league but the way we play, we have a chance to win. At the same time, it’s a lot of fun to play.”

While the Panthers played a prototypical Florida game on Sunday — lots of goals, solid defense, good goaltending — one thing that did not happen was Jonathan Huberdeau recording a point.

Huberdeau is having an incredible season as he has set the franchise single-scoring record and is second in the NHL in points. Sunday, however, his 13-game scoring streak came to a close.

That was one of the few negatives to come out of Detroit.

Florida did get a spectacular play from Sasha Barkov as the team’s captain stole the puck on a penalty kill, drove to the net and, with a defender smothering him, sent a no-look pass between his skates to a trailing Lundell.

“He’s a world-class player,” Brunette said. “He makes plays like that everyday. We’re spoiled because we’re used to it. Tremendous play from a great player.”

Added Lundell: “He has eyes in the back of his head. Unbelievable play by him.”



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