Florida Panthers: Looking at their Playoff Chase

EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 12: Jonathan Huberdeau
EDMONTON, AB - FEBRUARY 12: Jonathan Huberdeau /

As the Florida Panthers head into the final stretch of the season, what are their chances at landing a chance to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

At the start of the season, every NHL team has one goal. That goal is to raise the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. The only way to get there? Not only does a team have to qualify as one of the best 16 teams in the league, but they have to go win four rounds of grueling playoff series to raise the cup. Because the playoff rounds are extremely difficult to get through, the road to the Cup is oftentimes deemed as the hardest championship to win.

As we enter the final stretch of the 2017-18 NHL season, some teams have already basically confirmed their spots in the tournament. They consistently have played at their best and have risen to the top of the league in points. Those teams have all but secured a spot, and will be the teams with home ice advantage.

On the other hand, there are teams that have already confirmed that they will not be headed to the exciting playoffs. They consistently have under performed throughout the year and are now faced with the reality that they will not have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. Those teams have their focus on unloading their team at the trade deadline, and going through the motions till the end of the season.

Then there are the middle of the pack teams. The teams that have been up and down throughout the year. Sometimes they have shown the ability to be among the best in the league, and other times they have shown the ability to be among the worst in the league. Even though they have not had a full consistent season, they have given themselves at least a shot at trying to qualify for the big dance.

As for the Florida Panthers, they fall into the last category: the middle pack. At times this season, it has looked like they were headed to a top 5 pick in the NHL draft. But, they have kept themselves afloat and now stare down at the long and tough path to the postseason. Due to their inconsistent and at times disappointing play, they sit on the outside looking in, but with a strong chance to claim the last spot in the Eastern Conference.

While nobody has actually claimed a spot in the playoffs officially yet, there really is only one spot that the Panthers can catch: the 2nd wild card spot. Whoever gets this spot will have to deal with the wrath of either the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, or Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Panthers will be heavy, heavy underdogs if they face any of these teams, but once the playoffs start, it becomes a whole new season. Just look at what Nashville did to Chicago last year in the first round. All in all, there should be no talk of not trying to make the playoffs because “they’re going to be eliminated anyways.”

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Florida currently stand 5 points out of a playoff spot, but with three games in hand. Because of the games in hand, the Panthers actually control their own destiny to the playoffs. They sit behind three teams who are also trying to claim that last spot: the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, and the Carolina Hurricanes.

All of them have one thing in common: inconsistency. Throughout the season, all of those teams (including the Panthers) have had their ups and downs. In the end, it’s going to come down to who can play their best consistently. Not over 10 or 15 games, but from now till the end of the season.

So, how do the Panthers make this final season push for the last wild card spot? They are going to have to simply out work and out play their opponents. While the Panthers’ top six forwards are excellent, they are lacking depth in their bottom six. It’s going to take their best effort to pull out wins especially during this time of the year.

Coming back from behind in the standings is going to be extremely difficult. There are four options that could result from this last stretch ranking in from best case to worst case scenario:

  1. The Panthers completely dominate their last 24 games, and easily slide into one of the top two wild card spots.
  2. The Panthers are able to fight and claw their way into the last spot (likely coming down to the last game of the season).
  3. The Panthers completely collapse and fall flat on their face and turn their attention to the off-season (NHL Entry Draft).
  4.  The Panthers try to battle and scrape their way to a spot, but end up falling just short. This leads to frustration, anger, sadness, and a mediocre draft pick.

Regardless of what the outcome is, the Panthers’ organization, players, and fans should be excited for this last stretch of hockey. Not only will the hockey games be extremely meaningful, but it could offer a sampling of what playoff hockey would look like for this Panthers team if they qualify.

Next: Florida Panthers acquire Frank Vatrano from the Boston Bruins

The Florida Panthers are in the race for a spot to compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and from there be possibly crowned as the champions of the NHL. Are you ready for it?