A ROAD MOST TRAVELED: Florida Panthers put winning streak on the line Tuesday in Buffalo ... Florida kicks off six-game road trip ... Panthers have won 7 of past 9 on road ... Steven Kampfer close to return, Dave Bolland is not ... Connor Brickley back to
The hottest team in the National Hockey League is taking its show on the road.
The Panthers, yes the Florida Panthers, have won a franchise-record nine consecutive games and 15 of their past 18 and came into Monday holding a three point lead atop the Atlantic Division.
"We won't be at home, but we want to keep playing the same game,'' center Sasha Barkov said. "We have to keep playing the same way, keep trusting in each other. We're not only winning at home, but we win on the road. That's the sign of a good team. We're pretty confident in our team. We know when we play like this, we can beat any team in the league.''
Monday morning, equipment managers Chris Scoppetto and Chris Moody were busy at BB&T Center loading gear into a panel van for the ride to Fort Lauderdale International airport.
Florida kicks off its six-game road stretch Tuesday in Buffalo with trips to Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary. The team will come home for a few days then finish the road trip Jan. 17 at Tampa Bay.
Daunting? Perhaps for some.
The Panthers are currently 10-6-2 on the road (ranked ninth in the NHL) with wins in seven of their past nine.
Florida's recent run of success was fueled in part by a successful road trip at the start of December when Florida won in Detroit before picking up wins in St. Louis, Nashville and Columbus.
"That was a big part of our season,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It was huge. The road has been good to us. We keep our game simple and the guys have been focused on the game."
It was on the road when this team started believing in itself and completely bought into the style of game it needs to play to be successful.
Since the win at Detroit on Nov. 29, victories have come in bunches as the Panthers now are one of six teams with 50 points coming into Monday.
The Panthers vow they won't rest on their laurels.
Despite their recent success, they only have three more points than they did through the same amount of games last year.
Florida is on pace for 105 points after ending with 91 last season.
"You at the schedule and we know we have six games coming up on the road,'' Gallant said.
"But it's one game at a time. For me, it's playing that game. And we have 10 left until the [All-Star] break. We're in a good position right now. Lets just make sure we play to win the game every night. We're going to play our game.''
-- Defenseman Steven Kampfer is basically back after suffering a knee injury Dec. 10 against Washington.
The Panthers haven't had to rush him back based on the success of their defense of late, but if needed, Kampfer could return.
"He's really close,'' Gallant said. "Could he play in the next game? Probably. I would sooner see him get some good practices in. We'll see what happens."
-- Center Dave Bolland, Florida's highest-paid forward at $5.5 million per season, will not travel with the team and Gallant said he doesn't expect him back on the ice until after the All-Star break.
General manager Dale Tallon and Gallant have been vague about Bolland's injuries, with Tallon saying Bolland has a few lingering issues which have bothered him throughout the season.
Tallon says the team wants him to get completely healthy.
"We want him to help us in the playoff run,'' Tallon said Friday. "It's lingering, minor stuff. It's been enough to take him off his game. We're going to make sure he's 100 percent. We won't bring him back at 80. When he's right, he's one hell of a hockey player.''
-- Winger Connor Brickley was sent to Florida's AHL team in Portland, Maine, on Monday. Brickley had been scratched in three of the past five games.
"Connor is a second-year pro and wasn't getting enough ice time,'' Gallant said. "We don't want young guys sitting in the stands or sitting on the bench getting five, six minutes. He's definitely a big prospect for us, but he needs to play.''
Tuesday: Panthers at Sabres
When, where: 7 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640
Series: Buffalo leads 46-36-4
Scouting report: Buffalo finally beat Roberto Luongo on Nov. 12, winning 3-2 in Sunrise. The Panthers have won 17 of 23 since; Buffalo has lost 16 of 23 during the same span including its past four. Luongo had won seven consecutive games over Buffalo and has shutout the Sabres in his past three starts at First Niagara Center.