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Guy: Florida Panthers Have Rediscovered Their Winning Formula

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Matthew Tkachuk, center, celebrates with his teammates after scoring against the Vegas Golden Knights last Thursday night. Florida has beaten Vegas twice during their eight-game winning streak. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The Florida Panthers kicked off 2024 without a hiccup.

Both in the win column and damn near their style of play, as well.

Throughout their eight-game winning streak, the Panthers have looked like the team that ground its way to the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Dare I say even better?

Save for a high-flying game in Denver, the Panthers won those eight games with the same style they needed to play to succeed in the playoffs last year.

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They didn’t force offense or cheat for it. 

They chipped the puck in, won their board battles, and created their offense naturally.

The result? 

An eight-game winning streak, a goal differential of 36-15, and special teams units operating among the best in the league.

Among those eight wins was a perfect 4-0 road trip to kick off the New Year.

“We’ve got a standard that we are trying to hold ourselves accountable for our game,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said.

“I would describe what we do as having a small number of rules per system, maybe related to other teams, but we really adhere to those rules. If you make a great play, and it’s a spin-o-rama over five sticks, we’re not very happy about it, even if it goes in the back of the net. We judge ourselves by that.”

The Panthers learned those rules the hard way during a 1-4-0 stretch preceding the winning streak.

Their offense was floundering, their power play was struggling, and it caused them to stray away from those rules and force off the rush at times.

Perhaps that was precisely what they needed to go through to lead them back to what worked.

In the final game of that skid, the Panthers gave up many rush chances off of forced stretch passes, which ended up costing them a loss to the St. Louis Blues.

By the time they arrived in St. Louis just a few weeks later, they played a structured enough game good enough to eliminate the same Blues rush that had taken them down.

“We’ve been able to take the four-out-of-five game loss streak and turn it into a strength of our team,” Maurice said. “Sometimes, the adversity and the losses are good for you.”

That commitment to defense brought a more effective offense, too.

For one, Matthew Tkachuk is on his best run of the season, with a league-leading 17 points since the streak started.

Carter Verhaeghe (14 points), Sasha Barkov (14 points) and Sam Reinhart (12 points) also rank in the Top 10 in that span.

Gus Forsling’s eight points are eighth among defensemen since Dec. 23.

That’s the beauty of the Panthers’ system when everything is churning as it should.

Florida has many players talented enough to play a strong defensive game and produce offense without sacrificing defensively for it.

Not to mention a goaltender who is good enough to bail them out if they make a mistake.

Each of those players realized the same thing when Maurice initially took over, and it resulted in a Stanley Cup Final berth.

They have taken it even a step further during this winning streak.

“I think it’s more detailed, and it starts with buy-in,” Tkachuk said. “Everybody here has bought in, even guys that aren’t known as much for defense. We have to buy into it; otherwise, it’s not going to work.

“It starts with buy-in, and then it’s details. And we have been hammering them in all year and I think we are defending well as a five-man unit in front of our goalies. Obviously, our goalies have been unreal, but we are trying to limit as many chances as possible and that doesn’t just rely on Barkov, Reinhart, Forsling or [Aaron] Ekblad. It’s really a five-man unit and we are all playing well together.”

Eventually, the Panthers will face adversity again, and only time will tell how they handle it.

But if they’ve proven anything over the past two seasons, they are prepared for it.

How they responded to their worst stretch of the season only reinforces it.

And if this is how they play in April, May, and June, they could return to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season.

ON DECK

LOS ANGELES KINGS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • Last Season: Los Angeles won 2-0
  • This Season (Kings Lead 1-0) — At Los Angeles: Kings 2, Panthers 1 (Nov. 17). At Florida: Thursday.
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Los Angeles leads 26-14-0, 3 ties

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