Apr. 18, 2013; New York, NY, USA; Florida Panthers center Quinton Howden (42) looks back after taking a shot on New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) as New York Rangers left wing Rick Nash (61) helps defend the goal during the first period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Panthers Stumbling Down Home Stretch: Is It Over Yet?

I have an unfinished post on my computer titled “Plenty Of Positives As The Panthers Come Down The Home Stretch”. The post is dated April 8th, 2013, right after a stretch in which the Florida Panthers won four out of five games including their first three game win streak of the season. I never got past the title of that particular post because I was in Costa Rica at the time and one thing I have learned is, when the sun is shining and the waves are breaking you don’t waste your time writing about a last place hockey team.

Looking back, I’m glad I never finished that post for two reasons: 1) in the four ensuing games Florida has looked absolutely awful, getting outscored 21-6 while showing zero life. 2) Had I published the post I would have been beating myself up for jinxing every good thing that the Panthers had going for them up through April 8th. Maybe just putting that title into the universe was enough to send the Panthers into a tailspin. Every positive I would have highlighted has been exposed over the last four games.

I don’t want to say that the Panthers have checked out, but it may really be the case. Of course I have no idea. Its easy for me to claim the Panthers have checked out having never experienced how tough it possibly might be to play in hostile arenas against teams fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot meanwhile your team is a hodgepodge of young inexperienced players and middle of the road veterans who haven’t had any time to gel or develop any chemistry because injuries have gutted your team so badly and it seems like new faces pop up in the locker room on a daily basis.

Discounting all the above factors, it could be argued that the Panthers have checked out early. Could you really blame them? This season could not have been a very uplifting experience and I’m sure the Panthers locker room is not the happiest place in the world to be right now. Short of watching the Tryouts scene from Rudy before every shift, I imagine I would have a hard time getting up for these games too. I’ve checked out in a way myself. Here is what was going through my mind during Florida’s 6-1 loss to the Rangers last night, “…Seth Jones, Seth Jones, Seth Jones, Seth Jones…”

Five games. That’s all that remains of this year’s schedule. Whatever happens in those five games, no matter how discouraging the losses, no matter how disheartening the effort may be, the season will end for the Panthers after those five games, and after the season ends, Panther fans can return to their caves, nurse their wounds and rehabilitate their egos. The draft will come, and with it a rebirth of optimism, the excitement of free agency will put the 2013 season in the rearview mirror. Training will arrive before we know it, we can over estimate the improvements the Panthers young players will have made over the offseason, we can disregard all the “expert’s season previews”, and the playoffs will seem only a simple 82 games away. But first, five games.


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