By Steven "Goldie" Goldstein

SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – After a 13-day break due to COVID, the NHL and Florida Panthers are back on the ice.

The Cats have practiced the last three days and have, basically, their full team healthy and ready to go. With three games over the next four days, all at home, the Panthers have a great opportunity to pile up some points but it won’t be easy.

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Eye On The Opponent
The stretch of games starts against the Rangers who have nearly an identical record as the Panthers. New York has played great hockey featuring one of the league’s top goalies and defenseman. The Panthers will need a strong game from Sergei Bobrovsky and special teams will be a major factor. In the 2nd game of the back-to-back, the Lightning come east for another installment of the Florida hockey rivalry. The Cats start 2022 early with a 1 p.m. game on New Year’s Day against Montreal.

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Goalies Everywhere
Ok, so there aren’t THAT many goalies around but the Panthers are currently carrying three. Besides Bobrovsky, Spencer Knight is back from some AHL playing time. Then there’s Jonas Johansen who the Panthers picked up on waivers from Colorado. We will see how the coaching staff splits up starts and practice time as well.

Captain Comeback
After missing basically six weeks with two different injuries, one upper body and one lower, Aleksander Barkov is back. He has only played 16 of the 29 games and has points in all but two of them. The COVID pause helped as Barkov was able to get more healing time without missing more games. Expect him to be raring to go.

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Get Mojo Back
The Panthers started this season so well it was impossible for them to keep up their torrid pace. Besides tying the NHL record by winning their first 10 home games the Panthers remarkably only lost four regulation games in their first 26 played. There were some wild comebacks to keep the Cats atop the league standings. But of late, play slipped in part due to injuries. But there are no excuses in pro sports and the Panthers now have a golden chance to get their consistent speed game back, get big saves from the goalies and pick up wins from the beginning of the restart.

Steven "Goldie" Goldstein