March 9, 2012; Pittsburgh,PA, USA: Florida Panthers goalie Jose Theodore (60) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins winger Steve Sullivan (not pictured) during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pens won 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

Panthers Can't Back Into The Playoffs

You’ve always heard the old sports adage that says that you need to start to get hot before entering the playoffs.

The Panthers have played gutsy, efficient hockey for the most part over this recent span of games, not counting the two lemons against the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers.  Jose Theodore has played well in between the pipes, offensive contributions are starting to come from the many instead of the few, and players like Ed Jovanovski and Jason Garrison who are returning from injury are adding even more depth to this roster.

But under no stretch of the word are the Panthers “hot”.  And as the number of games left in the regular season dwindles, it’s time for the Panthers to get hot.

They are 4-6-2 in the last twelve games, which at this point of the season is too weak.  Teams like the Jets, Washington Capitals, and even the Tampa Bay Lightning could all go on a killer winning streak and wrest the division lead from Florida, and perhaps also the eighth slot in the Eastern Conference.  And when you factor in the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs also looking to sneak into the playoffs, it’s important for the Panthers to sharp hockey.

But ten points in 12 games just can’t cut it right now.  When so many other teams are breathing down our necks in the standings, the Panthers have to run stride for stride with whoever is chasing us, and a little bit faster.  Right now, the Capitals have won two games in a row, including a big win at Boston.  The Panthers have to answer this semi-streak with wins of their own to maintain their cushion in the division lead.  And when the Jets lose two straight, the Panthers need to win anyway, try to get separation even though it won’t cost you to lose.

I get the feeling that the Panthers have been doing too much scoreboard watching; they’ve got to put their noses to the grindstone, block out the standings, and focus only on the game ahead of them.  And when they are in that game, focus only on the one battle going on, the puck that needs to be chased down, or the check that needs to be delivered.  Over-simplification of the game will make things much easier for the Panthers to understand.  A win is the best-case scenario.  An OT loss is a about missed chances, but the point helps.  A loss is not good enough under any circumstances, and it should be loathed.  Let us at the Rat Trick say who played well or didn’t play well, or what a final score means for the postseason chances.  The Panthers should only be driven by results, by wanting to get the two points more than the team on the other side of the ice.  That’s how you make the playoffs.

At this stage of the year nothing is easy, and the Panthers should know this firsthand by now.  The fact of the matter is, the Panthers need to win and not scoreboard-watch.  We’re so close to playoff hockey, and our team can’t lose it’s focus.

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Tags: Eastern Conference Ed Jovanovski Florida Panthers Jason Garrison Washington Capitals

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