It's time for a real long road trip.
While they've already been on the road for three games this season, the Panthers make their first prolonged road trip of the season as they will play four games in seven nights.
The trek all starts Sunday with an afternoon contest in Buffalo against the Sabres before heading to Winnipeg on Tuesday, Philadelphia on Thursday and finally Washington on Saturday.
The Panthers held a brief practice on Saturday at the Saveology.com Iceplex to get the juices flowing before catching a charter to Buffalo.
"That was just the game plan," said head coach Kevin Dineen about the short but up-tempo practice. "We have a 3 o'clock game tomorrow. We accomplished a few things out there which we are trying to do every day.
"Short and crisp, get on the plane and get ready to go. gave them a little extra time here at home in the morning just to say goodbye to their families and now we head out together and all about hockey."
The Panthers feel that a prolonged trip can certainly be a help. It gives the team a chance to bond, something they didn't really get a good chance to do when playing two games in three nights in Ottawa and Montreal and then an up-and-back to Tampa.
"I just like the idea that you play a game, you get on a plane and head into the next city. Get a practice. It's just natural," said Dineen. "You always know that players are out together and obviously the conversation hits different directions but always seems to come back around the game and that's important."
"I think it's important to go out on the road, gel as a team, get together," said forward Jerred Smithson. "A lot of times that helps bring a team together, is when you get out on the road, eat dinner with different guys, get to know your teammates a little bit better."
With the way the team played against Winnipeg, they should go in to the trip with some confidence they hope to build upon.
“You never want to go on a losing streak, let alone what we just went on and the way we went on it,” said forward Kris Versteeg of the 6-3 victory on Thursday. “To get out of it that way was good but we have to build off that and not get too confident on one game.”
The team cautions that even though it's good to play on the road, there are pitfalls to it as playing away from home is always tough. But with the spot they're in, they just need to take as many points as possible.
"You don't want to hit a panic button too early but right now this road trip could be a big difference of making the playoffs or not," said Versteeg. "We have got to get back to .500.
"We have to claw our way back and however we do that is the way we're going to do it but we have to do it."
"It's tough to got out on the road. These are some good teams we're going to play," said Smithson. "It's going to be a great challenge for us but we have to find a way to get points...It's something we need right now and we're looking forward to it."
In this shortened season where they have three trips of four games or more, the Panthers believe this came at the perfect time. At least come next Saturday, they certainly hope that’s the case.
"We looked at this trip as a big part of our season. That we can get out and start establishing that cohesiveness that's really important," said Dineen. "We've had a few snap shot trips here and there but for the most part this is one where you actually get out and spend some time on the road. I think it's good timing for it."
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