Hot Panthers kick off 4-game trip against Flames

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Having won three of the past four games, the Florida Panthers believe they have turned the corner from their early-season struggles.

As they kick off a four-game road trip with a game against the Calgary Flames on Thursday, the Panthers are feeling confident they are ready to climb the standings and join the expected Atlantic Division heavy hitters.

Certainly their road trip, which also includes stops in Edmonton, Vancouver and Colorado, gives them an opportunity to make their mark. Beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 on Tuesday sent them out to Western Canada on a positive note.

“It’s an important trip for us, and it’s in really tough places, so we want to make sure that we take care of business here at home. That was a real positive coming out of today’s game,” coach Joel Quenneville said after his club’s win over the Penguins.

He added of the game at Calgary, “Going in there, we’d like to start off on the right foot. Let’s go into this trip knowing, ‘Hey, we want to make sure each and every night we’re going to look to get some points.'”

Florida has earned points in each of its past six games (3-0-3).

The Panthers — who have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons and made it once in seven years and only twice in 18 seasons — are well aware a team can kill its chances with a poor opening month.

“We’ve got lots of work ahead of us, and the points, the wins, it’s a big step obviously for the confidence and to bring the team together,” goalie Sergei Bobrovsky told NHL.com.

The Panthers should have defenseman Aaron Ekblad back in action after he missed last game due to illness, but center Vincent Trocheck also didn’t play against Pittsburgh, and defenseman Mike Matheson missed the third period.

The Flames are coming off a 5-3 loss to the visiting Washington Capitals on Tuesday, a game in which they could very well have won but were done in by costly, ill-timed defensive lapses. Their bugaboo this season has been surrendering goals early in periods and quickly after they score.

“We need to be more consistent,” defenseman Noah Hanifin told NHL.com. “We’ve been trailing a lot. Way too much. We always seem to fall behind in games. It’s tough in this league to string wins together when you do that.

“Last year we came back a lot in third periods, but you can’t rely on that. You’ve got to find ways to take the initiative, get the lead and play with the lead. That’s what good teams do.”

Right now, the Flames are not a good team. They’re a middling club with more losses than wins, counting their one overtime defeat. That said, they know a decent winning streak can make the inconsistent play shown so far this season a distant memory.

“It’s that time of the year where teams start to separate themselves already,” goalie Cam Talbot told Postmedia. “We have to be in that conversation. We have to find ways to not let teams get too far ahead of us.”

“We’ve got another level to get to. We’re very aware of that,” coach Bill Peters added. “We’ve got to get some desperation to our game. A little bit more hunger.”

Calgary did receive some good news ahead of the Wednesday game, as forward Sam Bennett is pegged to return after missing two games due to a lower-body injury.

–Field Level Media

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