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Panthers Pregame: Florida hasn’t lost its confidence

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TAMPA — The Florida Panthers say they have not lost their confidence despite coming into tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on a three-game losing streak.

Over the past week, the Panthers have gone 1-2-0 and wrap up this four-game roadtrip today against the Lightning.

As Jameson Olive noted earlier today, this will be the 19th time Florida and Tampa Bay have met in 2021 between all those preseason, regular season and playoff games.

”That hotel we’re at is very, very familiar,” Andrew Brunette joked. “For our group, I think it was good to play them that many times. To be the best, you have to complete against the best. We want to be the best and these are big tests.”

The Panthers won the first meeting between the two last month here at Amalie Arena.

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But with three consecutive losses, the Panthers have to try and not try and do too much to end a losing streak — or it will probably only continue on.

“It is not easy, that momentum thing, especially when you go on the road,” Aaron Ekblad said after Saturday’s morning skate. “We have lost a couple games. But we’re still in a very good position, we had a great start. We realize that. We’re not going to grip the stick too hard. We’re going to keep a positive attitude and find a way to win.”

Added Anthony Duclair: “We got a point off the shootout this week but at the same time, we need to simplify things. Sometimes when you’re down, you try to do too much, try to do another guy’s job. That’s not working out for us right now. We want to keep things simple; get to the net, get pucks to the net. Grind them out. That’s going to be the key tonight.”

The Panthers still have a lot of good going on these days despite the defeats.

Florida is the second-highest scoring team in the league behind Edmonton, have surrendered the 10th fewest goals per game and still have the most points in the entire NHL.

The Panthers’ +16 goal differential is tied for second with Edmonton (behind Carolina) as two of Florida’s four losses have come in a shootout.

Make no mistake: This is still a very good team.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said as much on Friday. We’re not thinking he was simply sandbagging, either.

“When you string so many wins in a row together, you are going to lose some games,” Cooper said according to the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s just inevitable. Pucks are not going to go in sometimes like … they have in the past.

“But (the Panthers) are still as dynamic as ever. But I think you throw it all out the window when Florida and Tampa Bay play each other just because of our history together.”

Brunette said Saturday morning that the Panthers will do themselves a favor by coming out and playing their brand of hockey.

”We have had some great games against them,” Brunette said. “I think the keys to success are how we approach the game and how fast we play. We have to dictate the pace. If we let them dictate the pace, we get into a little bit of trouble.”

— The Panthers will, not surprisingly, have Sergei Bobrovsky back in net tonight against the Lightning.

— Joe Thornton skated on Saturday and appears to be close to a return. Since he was skating with the scratch group today (Maxim Mamin, Kevin Connauton) he is not expected to play until Tuesday at the earliest.

— The Panthers loaned Olli Juolevi to AHL Charlotte on a conditioning stint. The defenseman, acquired in a deal with Vancouver just before the start of the season, has not played yet this season due to an undisclosed injury.

CANES AND NOLES

The Panthers and Lightning aren’t the only two Florida rivals going at it today as Miami visits Florida State a few hours northwest of here.

We asked Brunette, Duclair and Ekblad who they liked in the big game.

Brunette asked where the game was.

When informed it was in Tallahassee, he went with the Seminoles.

Lightning vs. Panthers: Ranking the best rivalries in Florida

Duclair and Ekblad took the Hurricanes without any hesitation.

No one asked about the Samford-Florida game.

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

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