After running the gamut of emotions in Ottawa and Boston late last week, the Florida Panthers are extremely happy to be spending this week in their own den.
Three games await the 'Cats on their home ice at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, starting Tuesday against Toronto and continuing with back-to-back showdowns vs. the New York Rangers (Friday) and Montreal Canadiens (Saturday).
Plagued with injuries and still licking their wounds after an 8-0 shellacking last Friday at the hands of the Bruins, a loss that came on the heels of an overtime setback to the Senators the previous night, the Panthers will need the support of their own fans as they close out 2011.
Here's how it looks:
Tuesday, Dec. 27--vs. Toronto
Florida (18-11-7) faces a squad that, like themselves, has had its share of struggles lately. The Panthers prevailed, 5-1, at the Air Canada Centre earlier in the season but the 'Cats are not the same healthy team they were back then.
Lots of questions going into this one: Can Florida rebound from the rout in Beantown, can they overcome a depleted roster and can they motivate themselves to rally in the face of all the adversity. This game will set the tone for the week.
Friday, Dec. 30--vs. New York Rangers
No motivation should be needed for this game as the Panthers were soundly defeated, 6-1, at Madison Square Garden earlier this month.
Unlike the Toronto game, Florida has a reason to see red when the Broadway Blueshirts come to town. This has all the makings of a nice revenge game similar to how the Bruins responded last Friday to being shut out by Florida a few weeks earlier.
Saturday, Dec. 31--vs. Montreal
They don't have Jacques Martin to kick around any more in Canadien Country, but fans will nonetheless fill the BankAtlantic Center and, as always, make it feel like an away game for the Panthers.
This is the one opponent Florida wants very badly to beat in their rink just to silence the thousands of Montreal fans. It should be a barnburner.
Last week's Growl Grade: D+
Were it not for the Panthers' commendable comeback effort in Ottawa that at least produced a point, it was a week to forget for the 'Cats. Very little in the way of holiday cheer.