All-Star break provides struggling Panthers chance to recharge

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers had hoped to head into the All-Star break on a high note, but instead will return from their week-long hiatus needing to dig themselves out an unexpected hole.

Following a 2-1 loss to the surging Vancouver Canucks on Monday night, the Panthers have now dropped a season-high four straight games while garnering just one out of a possible eight points in those contests.

"Obviously, not too happy," Panthers center Nick Bjugstad said. "We’ve got to figure out ways to win. It’s a tough one there. I think if we come back with a strong second half after this All-Star break, we get rejuvenated, we get some good rest and come back with a winning mentality, and then we can put something together."

For the Panthers, a long rest could be exactly what the team needs to alleviate their sudden state of despondence. Since returning from a franchise-best 4-2-0 road trip through Western Canada, the players have admittedly hit a wall for the first time all season.

"You can feel we lost a little bit of jam as a team in the past week or so," said goaltender Roberto Luongo, who is Florida’s lone representative at this weekend’s All-Star Game in Columbus. "It’s good for the guys to get this week off to recharge and refresh a little bit and come back with a fresh mindset. We have to attack the second half of the season. That’s huge for us."

So how can the Panthers break out of this current rut?

"It sounds cliche, but you just have to approach it one game at a time," said Luongo. "You can’t look at the standings. You can’t think of what we need to do in the second half. You’ve just gotta approach one game and try to win one game. That’s the mentality we’ve got to have."

The good news for the Panthers is that these recent struggles are completely normal. Every NHL organization endures its fair share of ebbs and flows during the arduous grind of an 82-game regular season, and it’s natural for both teams and players to run hot and cold.

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Still, the clock is ticking.

Entering the All-Star break with a respectable 20-14-10 record, Florida currently sits four points behind the Bruins Boston for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but that number could balloon to as much as eight by the end of the week.

Sporting his signature grin, Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant, however, showed no signs of urgency following Monday’s night’s disheartening loss.

As an NHL lifer, the veteran coach has been down this road before and was quick to point out that while the last four games may have been disappointing, there are still 38 more to play.

"You’ve gotta look forward," said Gallant. "For me, personally, I think we’ve had a good first half until the break right now. We didn’t’ play that well the last three games. There were spurts where we played well, but most of them weren’t good enough.

"We’ve gotta work to win hockey game. It’s one at a time, one at a time, one at a time. We know we’re going to have to play real well the second to have a chance at that playoff spot."

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