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Florida Panthers Dec. 19-25

'Twas the week before Christmas, and all though the Florida Panthers' house, not a creature was stirring....except for a few thousand crazed fans tomorrow night in Sunrise.

The surging 'Cats (18-9-6) close out their current four-game homestand against the Phoenix Coyotes in a match-up with a team involved in a torrid Pacific Division race.

But this is the Panthers' den, and this year that den is being entered into with fear and trepidation by opponents.

Florida, which is distancing itself from the rest of the Southeast Division and had built an eight-point lead as of the start of this week, has been extremely tough at the BankAtlantic Center lately.

The locals will be striving to continue its blue-collar work ethic under Head Coach Kevin Dineen. And a gritty effort is needed as the Panthers face a back-to-back road adventure later in the week.

Here's how things shape up:

Tuesday, Dec. 20--vs. Phoenix

This should be another barnburner as the Panthers' last 12 home games have been decided by one goal. The Coyotes bring a similar aggressive style of play to South Florida and, as a contender in the Pacific Division, will be out to stay in the hunt.

Thursday, Dec. 22--at Ottawa

A very tough assignment for Kris Versteeg and company as the Senators always give opponents fits on their home ice.

Friday, Dec. 23--at Boston

Who devised this ridiculous schedule anyway? Just over two weeks after their last visit to Stanley Cup championville (i.e. Beantown), the 'Cats must once again take on the Bruins in Boston.

Surely, Florida can't pull off another stunner against Nathan Horton and his mates in New England. Or can they...after all, this is the new and improved Panthers.

Back-to-back encounters are difficult for even the most seasoned squads, so this upcoming road trip will once again serve as a measuring stick.

The Panthers do not play another road game for two weeks, so bring on the challenge.

Last week's Growl Grade: A-

Florida drops a hard-fought shootout decision to New Jersey, but rallies for a shootout win against Calgary and a thrilling overtime triumph against division rival Carolina. Grit and sweat in three home games brings very commendable results.

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