The next five games played here at the Bank Atlantic Center will most likely define the future of the Florida Panthers in more ways than one. The first major issue is the playoffs. Now some of you who are normal readers of this site probably figure that all the Molson Canadien that I’ve been drinking is starting to affect my little brain. Using the words Florida Panthers and making the playoffs in the same sentence hasn’t made much sense since the Clinton Administration. However, all four of you realize that we are only six points out of the eighth playoff spot which isn’t like climbing Mount Everest, but more like running up the 99 stairs at the old Chicago Stadium. Doable. But it’s gonna hurt.
The Eastern Conference is getting a little bunched up as Carolina and Buffalo fight for their lives while Atlanta seems to have slipped and hit a wall, finding themselves in a slump. I’m not making any excuses for why we are where we are in the standings, as we all know that a few blown calls, and a powerless power play, combined with a lack of timely and consistent goal scoring has put us here. Besides not making the playoffs since Bill Clinton was our nations leader, the last time we made the post season, our scoring was coming from some guy with a nickname having to do with rockets.
We don’t have that luxury anymore, and every one of our forwards needs to step up. These next five games are conveniently spread out with no back to backs. However, the opponents aren’t going to make this a cakewalk either, and it starts tonight with the tough St. Louis Blues. The Blues also sit six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference which is bunched up even more than the East. St. Louis has struggled mightly as of late losing 11 of thier past 14 games, and are 1-2-1 on their current road trip.
David Backes leads the Blues with 17 goals and the former Toronto Maple Leaf Alex Steen leads in points with 40. The Blues tend to be a very hard team to play against, and will bring a style of Western Conference hockey that the banged up Panthers had better be prepared for. Physicality, to go with a bit of dump and chase, and grinding it out is some of what we’ll see thrown at us. On top of it the have two goaltenders who combined are 11-1-0 against Florida lifetime. Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin share the duties, with Halak getting most of the starts for St. Louis. Halak is not enjoying what was hoped to be a successful year in St. Louis after his outstanding playoff performance last season, and is listed day to day with an upper body injury. Conklin meanwhile is 6-4-3 in 14 starts this year.
Tomas Vokoun should be getting the start tonight in goal, especially since he’s won his last nine starts against the Blues. Goaltending, though is the elast of our worries. The team is banged up with Bryan McCabe, Evgeny Dadonov, and now Cory Stillman (upper body) out with injuries. Michal Repik has been recalled from Rochester and Scott Timmins is here as well. Stephen Weiss is also nursing some bumps and bruises as well, as this is the time of year when things like this mount. Again, no excuses. If this team wants to make the postseason, the time for action begins tonight. Hopefully a youth movement can energize this team and supply some much needed excitement to help carry the Panthers to a victory. Keaton Ellerby and Dmitry Kulikov have played quite well together the past few games, and the thought of Erik Gudbranson potentially being here next season gives us something to look forward to.
The trade deadline is approaching and the outcome of these next five games will certainly determine the future of this roster one way or the other. Will they be planning for the post season, or will they be planning for next season? As I’ve said before, you are in charge of your own destiny boys.
Here’s the TSN Gameday preview.
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