First of all, I’m so thrilled to have playoff hockey come back to South Florida for the first time in 12 years! But, since the Panthers have played so well all season long, is that enough? At the beginning of the season I would say that certainly the goal was making it, no matter what seed we were. But now, since we’ve been in first place in the Southeast division for about 140 days, is just making it in last night enough to please the fans?
If we look at the last 10 games, the Panthers have a record of 2-3-5, not so pretty if you ask me, but not THAT horrible. They have points in 7 of them, but out of a possible 20 points, they only got 9 points. In my opinion, a win Saturday would change everything. Many of the fans today do not know what playoff hockey tastes like, or feels like. I feel that Saturday could be just a glimpse of what it will be. The Panthers have clinched, yes that’s awesome, but it’s not enough. There are still two more points of there to grab. The perspective from the Washington Capitals players have to be the same as ours, the point of view that there is still business to be done, win or lose, there is still one more game where anything can happen.
Just the thought of playing the New York Rangers in the 1st round scares me, let alone having to play the first two games in Madison Square Garden in front of a incredible fan base doesn’t make it any easier. On the other hand, playing the New Jersey Devils would actually benefit the Panthers more then any other team. The Devils don’t have a strong fan base and there fans won’t be heard much at the BAC. Plus, the first two games would be at home, where the crowd will be at full intensity. The Panthers would also have a perfect opportunity to face Peter Deboer, the former Panthers coach before Kevin Dineen. It wouldn’t be easy though, New Jersey has won 5 in a row and look tough heading into the postseason. Still, I would rather play a team that does not have Henrik Lundqvist in there net anytime of the year.
Either way, it still has not sunk in that the Panthers are in the postseason and no one can rip that away from us now. So many years or dissapointments and let downs, it’s hard to imagine anything else with this team, but the reality is that this team will just continue to get better, with different faces leading the way. Players like Quinton Howden, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau highlight a list of young prospects that are just eager to taste the NHL surface. But this Panthers team has scratched and clawed its way all season long and the fans are finally being rewarded. Oh, and no longer can anyone say that Stephen Weiss has not tasted playoff hockey, the only one people can keep saying that too is Jay Bouwmeester, sorry dude.
Ultimately, the Panthers need to get that point on Saturday. If we compared the Panthers to the 95-96 team, we can see that they also had 92 points and were the 4th seed going in. They went 3-6-1 in there last 10 and we all know what happened once the playoffs started. Can that happen again this season? I don’t know, but it is not impossible nor easy. Will Sean Bergenhiem be a hero just like last seasons playoff run with Tampa Bay? Will Stephen Weiss flurish in his first playoff apperance? Will Scott Clemmensen over take Jose Theodore in the playoffs? Only time will tell, the one thing I do know, is that I’m proud to be a Florida Panther fan and will always be proud of this organization. This is only the beginning of that is too come, and we all have to be excited for the rollercoaster thats ahead of us. Certainly, it is a great day to be a Florida Panther hockey fan.
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