By David Dwork

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COLUMBUS (CBSMiami) – The Florida Panthers will look to build off a big blowout win as they begin a tough road trip against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Florida’s 7-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs ended a 1-7-1 stretch that saw them drop nearly out of playoff contention.

Center Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals in the win and now has 22 on the season.

Marchessault is perhaps the best bargain in the NHL, having signed a two-year deal in the offseason with Florida worth a total of $1.5 million. He has 42 points this season.

“I think we should be a playoff team,” Marchessault said. “I think it’s just time that we show it. Obviously it’s getting late, but I think we needed that one win and now we go.”

The Panthers enter Thursday six points back of the New York Islanders for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, but there are also three other teams Florida would have to leapfrog.

“We certainly don’t feel like we’re out of it,” Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie told the Sun-Sentinel.

With just 14 games remaining on the schedule, the Panthers have no margin for error.

Columbus meanwhile is enjoying the best season in franchise history, already setting records for wins and points with 44 and 94, respectively.

The Blue Jackets are third in the Metropolitan Division but trail league-leading Washington by just three points.

“Washington is right there,” Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky told the Columbus Dispatch. “We’re right in their rear-view mirror. We’re going to keep pushing and try to catch those guys.”

The Blue Jackets are only the first obstacle on Florida’s challenging trip.

Friday night they face the New York Rangers, who sit just four points behind Columbus, and then a Sunday matinée in Pittsburgh.  The Penguins also are bearing down on Washington, trailing the Caps by just three points.

“We’ve got some good squads coming up here,” said Florida goalie James Reimer. “We’re a good team in here. We’ve still got a lot of belief in here. We’ve got to go onto the ice and play with that conviction.”


Reimer will make his fifth straight start for the Panthers, as Roberto Luongo remains sidelined with a lower body injury.

Florida will be without defenseman Aaron Ekblad and center Denis Malgin for the second straight game. Both suffered concussions during a loss at Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Columbus has been shorthanded 13 times over their past two games.


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