Drive For 95: Panthers Look To Lockdown Playoff Position


As the 2011-2012 NHL season begins to wind down, playoff races begin to heat up, and for the first time in 11 seasons, the Florida Panthers find themselves leading the Southeast Division with only 12 games remaining on the schedule. With each game, Florida realizes just how important every point is, and we will now break down how much of a chance the Cats really do have.

With the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Friday night, the Panthers now have a 3-point lead over the Capitals for first in the division with a game in hand, great for some breathing room. From a statistical standpoint, due to the outcome of the game, the Panthers playoff chances now improve to a whopping 94.0% chance of making the postseason – the highest percentage it has been ranked at all season.

As we look ahead to the upcoming week, the Panthers have four games on hand. The Buffalo Sabres tonight, Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday,  the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, and finally, the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.

The Sabres currently lead the series this season with a 2-1-0 record over the Cats. Their last matchup was on December 9th when the Sabres won 2-1 in overtime. The last time the Sabres were in Sunrise, they walked away with a 3-0 victory but Florida hopes to turn the tides this time. Thankfully, Sabres defensemen Tyler Myers is still out of the lineup as he is s serving his three game suspension handed down after an illegal hit on Montreal Canadiens Scott Gomez last week.

Buffalo currently sits 10th in the East, just 6 points behind Florida, so this will be a pivotal matchup between the two clubs, the Sabres have a lifetime record of 25-37-4-5 against the Panthers.

If there is one team which the Panthers do not want to see at this point in the season, it’s the Philadelphia Flyers. Philly has had Florida’s number all season, including a 5-0 thrashing of the Cats on March 8th. The Flyers have also won 5 straight against Florida, with the Panthers last winning 5-0 on December 20th 2010.

Probably the most important aspect the Panthers need to overcome to pull out the victory, is the play of Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz has been nothing short of spectacular down the stretch as he won seven consecutive games, including four shutouts. The Panthers are really going to have to create some good scoring chances, and rattle him early.

Florida will look to continue their dominance of the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday as the two clubs square off for their 5th meeting this season. Florida has won the previous four matchups including a 2-0 victory on March 11th.

The Panthers will hope to hand the ‘Canes another loss to add to their miserable season. Carolina sits 12 points behind the Panthers, and are all but eliminated for post season play. Florida has a lifetime record of 37-37-11-11 against their division rival.

Finally, the Panthers close out the week with a rare game against the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers won the last two meetings between the clubs by a score of 3-2. The Oilers had been officially eliminated for playoff contention last week after yet another disappointing season.

To make matters worse, a report from Oilers head coach Tom Renney said that rookie phenom Taylor Hall suffered a concussion Friday night against the Calgary Flames. Hall is currently 2nd on the Oilers for points this season, scoring 27 goals and adding 26 assists in 61 games.

The Panthers right now sit with 81 points with 12 games remaining on the schedule. If the Cats want to guarantee 100% that they make the Playoffs, they need to go a record of 5-3-4 to assure themselves they make it in, that or any combination which ensures they get 95 points. Commence the drive for 95.

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Adam Reid