The month is young, I get that. There are still 16 games left to be played in the regular season… plenty of time, yes. What will the Florida Panthers make of the remaining games? At this point, I’d say it’s which team decides to suit up. Will it be the “Road Warriors, “the “Comeback Cats” or the team that boasted one of the best home records early on? Or will it be the team that between two Thursday games in March got collectively shut out 12-0? Let’s hope for one of the first choices.
So far this month the Panthers have scored three goals in four games. No matter how you optimistically try to skew the facts, there really aren’t many positives that can be taken from that. Sunday’s game against Ottawa was the only bright spot in what has thusfar been a dark month. The “Comeback Cats” came out to play and erased a 2-0 deficit by scoring four unanswered goals and taking home the coveted two points.
I’ve been saying this for a few weeks now, and I still think it holds true more than any other prediction for a possible playoff berth. The Florida Panthers absolutely need to take advantage of the fact that they are playing in the weakest division in the Eastern Conference. Washington and Winnipeg both only trail by a couple of points, and last Thursday was a golden opportunity to add some cushion to what was also a two point lead in the Southeast. Rather than solidifying their lead, they get flat out embarrassed and allow Winnipeg to not only blow them out 7-0, but more importanty, to make quite the statement. Between the three teams, it’s going to be a fight to the death in the final month of the season.
It would be a complete and utter shame if the Panthers’ Cinderella story ended the same way that it has every year in the last decade. Of course it always hurts to miss the playoffs and the true fans in South Florida know full well what disappointment feels like. I don’t want to go through another postseason picking a temporary “second favorite” that I can pretend to care about and want to see succeed. For once, I want MY team to succeed and this year it would hurt worlds more than any year in the past.
Looking back to the start of the ’07-’08 season when we sealed Tomas Vokoun, Richard Zednik and saw Radek Dvorak‘s return to Sunrise, I felt like that was a season I could go into into with the notion: “OK, we have the tools, we can do it this year.” For those and other reasons, I had genuine hope. After we again failed to make the playoffs I vowed to never, ever, ever get my hopes up prior to a season under any circumstances. So since then, I’ve tried to be realistic over optimistic and quite honestly, that was going fine until this past offseason.
We all know how it happened and how Dale Tallon did what we had been waiting forever for from our front office. He had the same attitude that he did in Chicago and proved that he wanted nothing more than to turn the franchise around. That, paired with bringing in 11 new players and completely turning the roster upside down, was downright refreshing. I again tried to stay true to my commitment of not getting my hopes up, but I couldn’t do it. Instead? I showed up to the Panthers’ season opener in Long Island with an “I love Dale Tallon” sign.
I gave in, and the first few months of the season were blissfully gratifying. As January approached, the injury-ridden Panthers’ stellar play became much less consistent in their winning only two games. I was very happy with a pair of three game winning streaks in February, but can overall only be content about that month with the rain cloud of a four game losing streak also present.
Here we are in March, and the Cats have only shown me that I still have a reason to be terrified. I still have a reason to think “Wow, you sure were dumb. You got your hopes up and look what’s going to happen again.” I’m battling to silence the nagging, pessimistic voice because something about this year has been and always will be different. The “We See Red” campaign and the way fans have banded together is cool beyond words. The media and fans alike were talking about the Panthers, and for once, it was for good reasons.
16 games. The Panthers have 16 games to avoid disappointment, again. What they make of those games is up to them and head coach Kevin Dineen. Fans can only sit back, watch helplessly and hope for the best. But these are fans who have been through far more downs than ups, and missing the postseason would be a torturous end to an early fairytale of a season… especially for those of us who got our hopes up.
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