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Florida Panthers Ready for Final Push to Playoffs

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The Florida Panthers will be back home for the first time since beating Arizona on Jan. 24 when they play host to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

FORT LAUDERDALE — Sunday was a day of new beginnings for the Florida Panthers.

Many players had some new color after spending their week off basking in the sun; the team christened its second sheet of ice at its new training facility at War Memorial, and, come Tuesday, they embark on their final push of this regular season.

The Panthers went into their week vacation riding a four-game winning streak capped by back-to-back wins in Pittsburgh and on Long Island.

But a week off during the heat of an NHL season may as well be two months.

That win against the Islanders feels more like it happened in December than at the end of January.

“It was very much needed for everyone, it was a lot of games,” Sasha Barkov said. “It’s always great to get a little break but it’s good to get back and be around these guys again. We were playing well, playing the right way and have to find it again. …

“I am sure everyone remembers how to play hockey.’’

Florida has 33 games left as it plays No. 50 on Tuesday night against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.

“So, we go into the break feeling good about our play but it was not something we needed to hang onto,” coach Paul Maurice said after Sunday’s vigorous workout. “I don’t think we were on a roll, don’t think we were lucky, there wasn’t any mojo to it. Just working hard. All the pieces of the game were pretty good and we’ll keep trying to build on it.’’

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The last time the Panthers played in Sunrise was Jan. 24, and they snapped a four-game home losing streak by beating the Arizona Coyotes 6-2.

Florida comes into the unofficial second half of the season five points behind the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. 

With a 14-point lead on the Islanders for the final wild-card spot, the Panthers are all but assured a playoff position — MoneyPuck.com has Florida with a 99.7 percent chance of making the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. 

That does not mean the Panthers can relax.

Florida plays its first two games out of the break hosting the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals, two rebuilding teams within the grasp of a playoff spot.

The Flyers, whom many pundits picked near the bottom of the East during the preseason, hold the third spot in the Metropolitan Division.

The Capitals need a nice run to avoid missing the playoffs for a second straight season. 

Florida will play 11 games this month, with just four away from Sunrise. 

Those games are in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Tampa, and Carolina, so the Panthers have their challenges. 

“It’s starting fresh because there is a gear change after the All-Star break,’’ Maurice said. “The game looks different. Now you get into conference play, you get into back-to-backs which raises the intensity. There is a push from February to March 1 and some teams are going to fight back into it and we needed that last year. This thing won’t be done with in a month. But teams pushing are playing their playoff games and you need to be right about that.”

PRACTICE NOTES

Florida had Nick Cousins take part in full practice, and he is should return to the lineup Tuesday for the first time since being concussed after being boarded by Jason Zucker at Arizona on Jan. 2.

“I feel like myself again,” Cousins said. “I am excited to come back in, try and help the guys. Before the break, I had three or four good practices and then had the break where I was able to get up to speed. Now we’re back here and we’re rested and ready for a strong second half.”

Will Lockwood, who sustained a concussion in a fight with South Florida native Brandon Duhaime on Jan. 19 against the Wild, took part in practice but wore a no-contact jersey. 

— The Panthers spent the second half of their Sunday practice on the newly opened second ice sheet at the IcePlex. 

The team plans to move into the facility full-time this week and hold their morning skates in Fort Lauderdale instead of their arena. 

This will be the first time the Panthers have regularly held morning skates outside of their arena, although they have held a handful in Coral Springs if a concert the night before needed additional time to break down.

“It is all coming together and it took a while,” Maurice said. “You have to live in a house for a while before you know which room you have to paint first. We came in, took a break and now we’re in. Everything is really great. But you want the ice sheets to be good. This is a beautiful facility, but you want the ice to be good. We tried both sheets today just so we’re not doing that later.”

— Sam Reinhart and Sergei Bobrovsky were not at practice on Sunday as both planned to fly back from the All-Star Game in Toronto later that night. 

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ON DECK

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series — At Florida: Feb. 6; March 7. At Philadelphia: March 24.  
  • Last season: Philadelphia won 2-1
  • All-time regular season series: Philadelphia leads 57-37-6, 7 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. Washington, 7 p.m.

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