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Road Cats: Florida Panthers sweep three-game set, head back to Sunrise

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Aaron Ekblad celebrates his game-winning overtime goal against the Carolina Hurricanes with captain Sasha Barkov on Wednesday night. — AP Photo/Chris Seward

On Jan. 23, the Florida Panthers found themselves with seven wins in 18 road games following a loss in Seattle in which they, well, did not look very sharp.

Or good, to be honest.

Things have certainly changed since then.

“It has been one of our key conversations,” MacKenzie Weegar said, “to be better on the road. I thought we started slow on the road this season, it’s kind of been one of our weaker points.”

In their six road games since the lackluster performance in Seattle, the Panthers have gone 5-1-0 and — after beating Chicago 5-2 on Sunday — are now 12-7-5 away from home.

The Panthers’ past three wins came on the road at Carolina, Minnesota and Chicago.

“I think we managed the game pretty well on the road as of late,” coach Andrew Brunette said on Sunday.

“I think we did an excellent job this whole trip of playing road hockey and giving them what they give us, we’re not forcing issues. It’s kind of grinding through these games. Maybe it wasn’t our best stretch of hockey, but we found ways to score and do the right things.”

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Inconsistent play away from home had been a storyline that played out a lot. And the Panthers had to answer questions about that failure to win on the road time and again.

“Our record isn’t indicative of how we play on the road,” Brunette said.

“There are games we’d love to have back, absolutely, we just kind of beat ourselves in those games early in the year and kind of got ourselves in a 50-50 road-type scenario. We were better than that.”

Florida’s current stretch included a three-game sweep of their first trip back from their two-week All-Star Break.

“Three tough buildings and three tough teams,’’ Brunette added. “It’s tough coming off a break like that, but the guys had energy, the guys were excited to be back. A big six points.”

Yes, the Panthers were not dangerously close to hitting the 10 goal mark as they were at times at home over the last six weeks. But they seemingly learned how to grind out some games.

With wins against two Stanley Cup Contenders in hand, the Panthers had to close out a three-game trip against the Blackhawks.

While Chicago controlled play early, leading 10-2 in shots by the time with less than four minutes left in the first, the Panthers were still in a tied game.

With 3:27 to go in the first period, Aaron Ekblad got the Panthers on the board with a one-timer courtesy of a Sam Reinhart pass to start things off.

Ekblad’s goal was his 13th of the season, pulling him into a tie with Nashville’s Roman Josi for second place in goals among NHL defensemen.

“He has honestly been incredible all season,” said Weegar, his usual defense partner.

“He carried us last year and he just keeps getting better and better. I just want to keep seeing success from him and hopefully, he is in the Norris Trophy talks because he definitely deserves it.”

Patrick Kane tied the game up for Chicago with a shot from an awkward angle that squeaked past Sergei Bobrovsky with 31.1 seconds to go in the first.

It was a period in which Florida was outshot 11-3 — yet the Panthers were still in the game.

With 12:34 to go in the second period, Montour made it 2-1 with a wrist shot off of a slick touch pass from Sasha Barkov.

The Panthers would not relinquish the lead after regaining control in the second period as they outshot the Blackhawks 11-8.

They kept that control in the third period, as a wrist shot from Weegar made it 3-1 just 50 seconds in.

Anthony Duclair appeared to add another goal to the lead 7:57 into the third — only it was called back following a successful offside challenge by Chicago.

The Blackhawks did cut into Florida’s lead after Caleb Jones snuck yet another wide-angle shot past Bobrovsky with 7:22 to go to make it a 3-2 game.

Empty netters from Barkov and Anton Lundell sealed the deal for the Panthers in a 5-2 victory to end the road trip.

“To see us come out and win all of these three games, that’s [given] us a lot of confidence for our group,” Weegar said.

“That’ll go a long way down the road, especially in the playoffs to win in other teams’ buildings, so we got to keep it going. We have a lot of away games coming up in the last stretch, so we have to keep building on that.”

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS VS NASHVILLE PREDATORS

  • When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • Tickets: CLICK HERE
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
  • Last season: Florida won 5-2-1
  • All-time regular season series: Florida leads 20-11-6, 3 ties
  • This season: First meeting
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