For the first time in several years the Florida Panthers find themselves in unfamiliar territory: The NHL playoff hunt. The Panthers have gone 10-years without postseason play, a record of which they are not proud of owning. If that isn’t bad enough the Cats haven’t even been in a playoff hunt this late in the season since the 2008-09 season – that year they finished with 93 points, tied with the Montreal Canadiens for 8th in the East, but were unsuccessful in qualifying when it came to tiebreaking procedure.
Based on last season’s totals, the New York Rangers tied down 8th in the Eastern Conference with 93 points. So, to be safe we will say the Panthers will need 95 points this year to make the post season. Currently, the cats have a record of 30-21-12 through 63 games, good enough for 72 points and 3rd overall in the Eastern Conference. This means, over their 19 remaining games, the Panthers would need to post a record of 12-7 to qualify for the post season.
Of the remaining 19 contests, the Panthers play non-playoff teams 10 times. They will also play division rivals five more times – the Carolina Hurricanes fit into both categories with 3 more contests. With the 7-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Friday night, the Panthers chances of making the playoffs moved to 82.2 percent, this number seems even larger when you consider that the next highest percentage in the Southeast division belongs to the Washington Capitals at 55.9% as they trail the Panthers by 2 points with 1 extra game played.
But, the main factor into whether or not the Panthers make it into the post season is determined on how they play down the stretch. The team must realize that they must now dig in, and find that extra push, which will help them secure a playoff position. Prior to the loss Thursday night, the club was on a 3-game winning streak. Twice the Panthers found themselves in a 2-0 hole, but managed to dig deep, and pull out the two points. Something which shows that this team is not willing to give up, and that they do have the desire to make the playoffs.
In addition, on a positive note, the Panthers are finally becoming healthy, and really showing GM Dale Tallon the play which he had expected. Currently, the only regular skaters missing from the roster are Dmitry Kulikov, Scottie Upshall, Matt Bradley, and Kris Versteeg. Hopefully the injury to Versteeg won’t last long, and he’ll be back in the lineup soon. As for Upshall, he’s missed virtually the entire season, but if he was able to comeback and find his game, it would be a welcomed site for the offense.
Either way you look at it, the Panthers know now more than ever that they have what it takes to compete, and lock down a playoff spot. They have proved all the critics wrong this season who said that adding 13-new faces to the team wouldn’t produce instant success.
This team is hungry for post season play, and will not stop until it is achieved. They know their destiny is in their hands right now, and it is their playoff spot to lose.
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