Now poised for a sweep through California, the Florida Panthers can't be sure what to expect when they face the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday in their second game in the area in two nights.
The Panthers pulled off a 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday when Aleksi Saarela scored his first career goal and Sergei Bobrovsky made 35 saves. The victory followed a 5-3 win on Monday at San Jose.
Now comes a date with a Kings team that has been gutted from recent trades. Former Kings Stanley Cup champions Tyler Toffoli and Alec Martinez were traded in separate deals this week alone.
Earlier this month, the Kings moved forward Kyle Clifford, and backup goalie Jack Campbell was also included in the same deal.
Less talent on the ice -- and less veteran talent at that -- would seem to be a good recipe for a Panthers victory Thursday, except it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes, the wounded animal goes on the attack.
"I find teams in that spot, they are changing the complexion of their team -- whether it's before or after the deadline -- they can go on some runs," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the Kings. "They say there is not a lot of pressure there, but they are playing the games and having fun with it. They can get momentum off that and be dangerous as well."
The Panthers have now won three of their past five games, which is significant progress since their recent results could also be viewed in a different way. Before Monday, they were on a 2-6-1 run coming out of the All-Star break.
The reward for the Wednesday victory is a move back into third place in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers are 2-0-0 on their current five-game West Coast road trip.
"These are big games for us," Bobrovsky said. "I thought as a team, we gave a good effort (Wednesday). We got timely goals, guys sacrificing in the (defensive) zone. It was solid, and it was fun, too. Winning is fun. You just have to continue working with each other."
After struggling for nearly two full seasons, the Kings knew roster changes were coming, but it hasn't softened the blow. Toffoli, Martinez and Clifford came of age during the team's glory days when they won Stanley Cup titles in 2012 and 2014. Toffoli arrived between those championship seasons.
"There are going to be ups and downs and distractions, but it is your job as a player to be ready to play regardless of the situation," Kings forward Dustin Brown said, according to NHL.com. "I think emotionally it can drain you, but you've got to be able to focus."
Brown scored two goals Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets, but the Kings were unable to protect a slim early lead and fell 6-3. Los Angeles gave up all six goals after the midway point of the game.
Martin Frk scored his fourth goal in seven games with the Kings and figures to be one of the players who gets more chances moving forward.
"We're not going to make the playoffs, so we're going to be playing teams that are fighting for points," Brown said, with a matchup against Panthers one such game. "You can learn a lot from playing in these games if you're prepared and willing to do the work."
--Field Level Media