Panthers must stay sharp in second half of six-game road trip

Cats will visit Montreal, Toronto and Columbus in four-day span

The Florida Panthers took care of business in the first half of this split six-game road trip with wins over Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago. With two of three games coming against teams directly in the fight for a precious playoff spot, the Cats would love to come out of the second segment of the roadie with at least four points.

Let’s take a brief look at what’s ahead for the Panthers before they return to the BB&T Center to host the Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

Saturday: Montreal

The Panthers will be playing its first game since pulling out a 4-3 win from under its tail over the Blackhawks on January 21, and with the standings so tight, they can’t really afford to let the rust show and slip up in what’s a very winnable road game.

Montreal (23-22-7) has played twice since All-Star weekend, dropping a 4-2 decision on home ice to the Washington Capitals on Monday a followed by a 3-1 win last night in Buffalo, and is desperately trying to put together an unlikely monster run that will keep its flickering playoff hopes alive.

This will be the second meeting of four between the two teams. The Panthers nipped the Canadiens 6-5 in Sunrise on December 29.

Monday: Toronto

On paper, this is the biggest game of the trip with the two clubs tied at 61 points for the assured playoff berth a third place finish in the Atlantic Division guarantees.

The Maple Leafs came back from the break and promptly posted impressive road wins over Nashville and Dallas to erase Florida’s four-point lead. Those tilts give the Panthers two games in hand on the Buds, who will host Ottawa on Saturday night after Florida’s plays the Canadiens in the afternoon.

You best believe Toronto will be looking for payback after they were shredded by the high-scoring Cats 8-4 in Sunrise in the first meeting between the two on January 12.

Tuesday: Columbus

Chances are we’ll see Sam Montembeault start in the second half of the Toronto-Columbus back-to-back.

This is the last of the three regular season meetings between the Panthers and Sergei Bobrovsky’s former team. The Cats and Blue Jackets have traded 4-1 decisions on home ice, so it’ll be interesting to see who takes the very important rubber match at Nationwide Arena.

Like Florida, Columbus has yet to play this week. The Blue Jackets will be in action Saturday in Buffalo and Sunday in Montreal before they host the Cats. Columbus is a blistering 10-2 in its last 12 games and has won six straight. They are currently the first wild card in the Eastern Conference with 62 points.

How many points will the Cats pick up in the next three games?