TAMPA – A large contingent of Panthers players sat outside the Tampa Embassy Suites on Sunday morning, sipping on coffee and working feverishly on their smart phones.
Their bus was sitting on the side of the street, waiting to take them to the airport where they would board their charter and head west of the Mississippi for the second time this season.
The Panthers don't play in Anaheim until Wednesday night, but the team is getting a head start on their California adventure. Instead of flying west the day before the game as has been the case in the past, the Panthers are going to hold practices in Orange County on Monday and Tuesday before settling in to their usual game-day activities.
Florida will play three games – against the Ducks, Kings and Coyotes – in a span of four nights.
“I thought the last time we went west, we really felt the affects of going out the day before,'' coach Pete DeBoer said as he sat in the sun outside the hotel.
“We just got thumped. It doesn't translate into a guaranteed win or anything, but Dale Tallon was receptive to going out there early to give the team the best opportunity to pick up points. We have a couple of good practice days planned so that gives you a chance to get used to the time change.''
West coast trips have been a mixed bag for the Panthers in recent years. In Florida's first trip west this year, the Panthers went 1-2 with a win in Calgary and losses in Edmonton and Vancouver. In the lone trip to the Golden State last year, the Panthers upset San Jose.
In 2008-09, Florida lost two of three – but the win in Anaheim brought David Booth his first hat trick.
Since the lockout, the Panthers have won four of 11 games against Pacific Division teams on their ice – with all of those wins coming in their past four games. Florida, which has won three of its past four road games after Saturday's 4-3 shootout win against the Lightning, would like to continue that run.
“All three of these teams are good teams,'' DeBoer said. “Anaheim's record doesn't indicate how good they are. It wasn't too long ago that they were the Stanley Cup champions. Los Angeles is as good as any team I've seen and Phoenix is right where they finished where they did last year. It's a good test for us.''
During the shootout period Saturday there was a bit of confusion on the second Tampa Bay shot. Martin St. Louis was introduced and skated out to center ice, only to be called back by the referee because Lightning coach Guy Boucher had put Sean Bergenheim down on his lineup card as the second shooter.
St. Louis, who has five goals in 25 shootout attempts, ended up shooting fourth but couldn't answer Stephen Weiss' goal that turned out to be the winner. Bergenheim was blocked out by Tomas Vokoun as were Tampa's other three shooters. Bergenheim is a career 0-for-4 in shootouts.
-- The Panthers are now 21-37 all-time in the shootout which continues to be the lowest winning percentage in the league since the shootout was instituted in 2005. Weiss is 5-for-25, with four of those goals being game-deciding ones. Tomas Vokoun improved to 19-25 with a save rate of 66 percent.
-- With Jason Garrison back in the lineup, the Panthers sent defenseman Joe Callahan back to their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Florida kept Keaton Ellerby and Bill Thomas. DeBoer said Steve Bernier is probable for Wednesday's game in Anaheim. Bernier has been out since undergoing facial surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone suffered in a fight with Minnesota's Brent Burns on Nov. 5.
-- Winger Cory Stillman left Saturday's game with back spasms in the third period. His status is unknown for Wednesday.
-- With the Miami Hurricanes firing Randy Shannon on Saturday, DeBoer is now tied for second among South Florida major coaches in terms of seniority despite only being in his third year leading the Panthers.
DeBoer, Erik Spoelstra (Heat) and Tony Sparano (Dolphins) are all in their third seasons.
FIU football coach Mario Cristobal, in his fourth season with the Golden Panthers, is now the area's most tenured coach.
“Continuity and stability is something perhaps this team hasn't had in a while,'' DeBoer said. “Hopefully we can keep that going.''
-- DeBoer on giving Tampa Bay's dangerous power play seven opportunities on Saturday: “It's like hanging a T-bone in front of a lion. We were just asking for trouble.''
The Lightning, leading the league in power play goals, went 1-for-7 against the Panthers.