The next 20 games will prove to be decisive on whether or not the Florida Panthers will have a chance at making the playoffs this season. Yes to many it may seem illogical to include the words “Panthers,” “playoff” and “this season” in the same sentence. However, those are also the same people who the most they will do to find out more about this team is log onto NHL.com and look at this team’s record. This team was good enough to make the playoffs two years ago and as far as I can recall, they just left Denver playing their best hockey ever since Dale Tallon took over as General Manager.
This stretch consists of 11 home games and 9 away games facing the following teams: Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers (2 times), Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators (2 times), Winnipeg Jets (2 times), Detroit Red Wings (3 times), Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Montreal Canadiens (2 times), Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning. This will put this team half way through the season and wrap up the 2013 year.
For the past five full 82 regular game seasons the magic number to qualify to the Eastern Conference playoffs seems to be 96 points. That includes if you were to make this season’s realignment retroactive for those 5 years as Detroit would qualify every time. The Panthers currently have 14 points needing 82 more of a possible 122 to reach that mark. In other words 41 more wins, forcing the Cats to win an average of just above 14 games for every 20 games played. Mind you this is high balling as well since the East is not as strong as the West and it doesn’t look like a team will need those many points to qualify to this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs. Let’s just be on the safe side shall we?
So just to be on track the Panthers need 28 points from the next possible 40 by the end of 2013. So far in the East only Tampa Bay has been able to earn 28 points in a stretch of 20 games. Is this possible for the Panthers? It is but there isn’t any doubt that they have made it very hard on themselves though. Then again it’s the Panthers and no one can expect them to make things easy.
With the Panthers coming off their best game in years they can still make a push for the playoffs. It starts with these next 20 games. As I have mentioned before, goaltending will be key. Do not expect to make the playoffs with anything less than .900SV%. Panthers’ current team total sits at .893%. Tim Thomas will be an above .900% goalie but when he takes a game off they will need those same numbers from the backups. Not only will they need it for the stat sheet but they will need it for their mental toughness too. These players can play very solid hockey (as we saw against Colorado) only if there is confidence in the goalie. The Panthers will improve on the powerplay and they will continue to improve on making less mistakes. The team has a good coaching staff to work on that during practices. But none of that will be affective if the Panthers can’t stop the puck.
Truthfully Thomas is why I still believe this team can make the playoffs. To me it is impossible to envision Thomas not being in the playoffs. His work ethic is second to none and for that he provides leadership on and off the ice for this team. This man was made for the playoffs and the only way I can picture him not being in them is when he decides to take the year off. You can see how with every game he pushes himself to get better and better and now we hear that he is pushing very hard to make the US Olympic Team that will fight for a gold medal in Sochi. There is something not right if Thomas isn’t in the playoffs and if it was up to him, he will be in it.