The Florida Panthers found themselves in a little bit of a rut going into Tuesday night’s game against the Montréal Canadiens. After losing in regulation to the Carolina Hurricanes and then losing two shootouts in a row to the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders, the team looked lost. There were no apparent answers on offense, no support for the supreme goaltending of Jose Theodore, and the cushion the Panthers were building appeared to collapse under the weight of all the pressure.
But the Panthers still had a 96.2% chance to make the playoffs anyway.
Now with a thrilling shootout victory over the Habs under their belt, the Panthers are more firmly entrenched to be in the post-season than they have been all year. According to sportsclubstats.com, the percentage of making the playoffs rose to 98.7, by far the highest total of the entire season. Considering that the Panthers are five points up on the Washington Capitals with a game in hand and only six games left to go in the season, that statistic seems viable.
And although the Panthers have not totally been up to snuff in recent games by only winning one of four against non-playoff teams, at the bare minimum they’ve been able to get points. Those two shootout losses kept the Panthers step for step with the Capitals, preventing them from ever coming in too close in the standings. The closest the Caps came to catching Florida was three points with an extra game, which was before last night’s games. As bitter as those games were to fans (I saw their ire on Twitter), the Panthers salvaged their playoff hopes quite well in those games.
But I must admit, the Panthers did get some help as the season has moved forward. Teams like the Lightning, Jets, Hurricanes, and Maple Leafs all were looking to put their names in the hat to win the Southeast or the eighth spot. And one by one, each team collpased, making the road to the playoffs for the Panthers even easier. Even the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins have cooled down, perhaps giving the Panthers a shot at the two-seed instead of the three. The point is, unless you count the far-back Capitals or Sabres, there is no true challenge to the Panthers. The team controls its own destiny among a mess of flailing teams.
It irks me to think that any true Panthers fan would doubt their team’s playoff prospects. Too many fans were ready to jump off the ledge after two periods in last night’s gane against Montréal. The truth is, even after a possible Panther loss, there can be no way the Panthers lose their playoff spot. Too many inconsistent teams trail them, and the cushion we have there is far too confortable to totally disappear.
This is not a jinx.
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