After recharging over All-Star Break, Florida Panthers ready to build on success

The Florida Panthers made their way onto the ice the past two days looking like a rejuvenated group.

Getting a week-and-a-half off midway through the season tends to have that effect.

Coach Paul Maurice relaxed at home in Fort Lauderdale and probably ate a little too much at the Greek Festival over the weekend.

“Put a show on there,” Maurice said. “It was good.”

Many players went on vacation — the Caribbean, specifically Turks and Caicos, was a popular destination — and had the tans to show for their extended time in the sun.

“Mentally recharged,” said defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who noted he also played some tennis during his downtime.

Forward Sam Reinhart and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky were the two who didn’t get much downtime after representing the team at the NHL All-Star Game in Toronto.

“A really cool experience,” Reinhart said.

Now, it’s back to business as usual. The Panthers (31-14-4) resume their regular-season schedule Tuesday when they begin a three-game homestand against the Philadelphia Flyers (25-19-6) at Amerant Bank Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Florida entered the break on a four-game winning streak and had picked up points in 15 of their past 17 contests. With 33 games left to play, the Panthers are second in the Eastern Conference behind only the Boston Bruins and have a 14-point cushion over the New York Islanders for the conference’s final playoff spot, making them almost a virtual lock to make the postseason with a little more than two months left on the schedule.

But that doesn’t mean the Panthers are resting on their laurels just yet. Far from it.

“We were playing well,” Panthers captain and top-line center Aleksander Barkov said, “playing the right way and have to find it again. … I am sure everyone remembers how to play hockey.’’

Added Reinhart: “The quicker that teams can get back into it and get refocused and re-energized, the better off they are.”

And Maurice: “We go into the break feeling good about our play but it was not something we needed to hang onto. I don’t think we were on a roll, don’t think we were lucky, there wasn’t any mojo to it. Just working hard. All the pieces of the game were pretty good and we’ll keep trying to build on it.’’

The Panthers will have the comfort of playing on home ice for an extended period as they return to action. Seven of their 11 games in February will be played at Amerant Bank Arena. In fact, the Panthers only leave the Eastern Time Zone once the rest of the season — March 12 against the Dallas Stars.

And while the Panthers have a comfort of sorts in knowing they have a cushion in the standings, they also understand that many of the teams they’ll face down the stretch will be a little more desperate as they compete for their own postseason berths. Florida was in that spot last season, needing a near perfect finish to the regular season to squeak into the playoffs on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals, so they acknowledge the challenge they’ll likely face each time the puck drops.

“It’s starting fresh because there is a gear change after the All-Star break,’’ Maurice said. “The game looks different. Now you get into conference play, you get into back-to-backs which raises the intensity. There is a push from February to March 1 and some teams are going to fight back into it and we needed that last year. This thing won’t be done with in a month, but teams pushing are playing their playoff games and you need to be right about that.”