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Florida Panthers hot and healthier, CBS Miami's Steve Goldstein

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CBS News Miami Live

SUNRISE - Led by a timely offense and stingy defense, the Florida Panthers have caught fire the past few weeks. Four straight wins, sellout crowds, and a team getting its injured players back has the rest of the NHL on notice.

The defending Eastern Conference champions are deeper than last season, and if they keep up their winning ways, they may not have to go on a late-season run to squeeze into the playoffs as the 8th seed.

Predictions by many had this team taking a step back. Once again, Paul Maurice's group is proving those people wrong.

Bennett Back
Sam Bennett's return makes the forward lines tougher, deeper and gives opponents matchup problems. The Panthers basically have two top lines. Carter Verhaeghe and Matthew Tkachuk are Bennett's wingers, and both scored 40 goals last season. That just isn't seen in the NHL.

Barkov Line
The Panthers' captain is having perhaps his finest start to a season in his career. Averaging a point per game, Aleksander Barkov is shining defensively. He has cerebral linemates that think the game at a high level in Sam Reinhart and Evan Rodrigues. Add in Reinhart's unbelievable start, and it adds up to a great top line. At 5 on 5, the trio has been on the ice for 14 goals scored and only two goals against. That's remarkable production that shows no signs of slowing down.

Egoless Captain
Having no ego is a good thing in this case. The best part of Barkov's game, as good as he is on the ice, may be his selflessness when it comes to statistics and numbers. He is a player who does not care about his own points, ice time, or anything else as long as his team wins and he's contributing to that. Having a leader like Barkov, the longest tenured Panther, filters down to the rest of the team, and we are seeing that on this Panthers squad.

California Dreamin'
After Sunday's thrilling 4-3 win at home against Chicago, the Panthers hopped on a plane to San Jose. They take on the Sharks on Tuesday and then slide south to Los Angeles for back-to-back games against the Kings on Thursday and the Ducks on Friday, where the Panthers will see former teammate Radko Gudas. The Cats are 9-2-1 since losing the first two games on the season and have lost just once in regulation in the last three weeks.

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