Florida Panthers: Playoff Race is Tightening by the Days

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 22: Goaltender Roberto Luongo
COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 22: Goaltender Roberto Luongo /

As the Florida Panthers head into the last final stretch of the season, they look to nab one of the last available playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

Nobody expected the Florida Panthers to be here. Not from the beginning of the season. Not after the quarter of the season passed. Not after half the season passed. Not even after they started to catch fire at the end of January.

But now, while some still doubt and worry, this team has their playoff lives in their own hands. They have the ability to destroy it or let it live. It’s up to them with 10 games left to do their job.

The Panthers currently stand 1 point out of a playoff spot with 2 games in hand on the New Jersey Devils, and 7 points out of the 1st wildcard spot with 3 games in hand on the Philadelphia Flyers. The odds are looking pretty good for the Panthers. They control their playoff chances in at least one spot, but as of now, they still are on the outside looking in.

While the Panthers have their eyes on finishing as high as they can in the standings (which would be 1st wildcard spot), the most realistic and most viable team that they will be able to catch is the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils have played inconsistent hockey through this final stretch. They’ve been able to keep themselves afloat with some big time wins over competitive teams, but they have also fallen in other games as well.

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What’s not helping the Devils is the fact that their schedule has been more difficult than the Panthers or some of the other teams that have their eyes set on a playoff berth. The Devils have been able to stay alive for now, but it could only be a matter of time before they fall off for good.

They are also relying heavily on the stardom of Taylor Hall to carry them to the promise land. It’s never good to be relying on one man to carry the entire team.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have had a stretch of games that have been fairly easy. However though, no game in the NHL is a given, the Panthers have still found a way to lose two games against teams who are destined for a lottery draft pick (Edmonton and Ottawa).

Other than those two loses (and the loss to Columbus last night), the Panthers have won every single game. Moving forward though, they must continue to play the way they’ve played throughout the course of this final stretch. It certainly won’t be easy, especially when you play Boston three more times, but playoff teams find a way, and that’s what this group will have to do if they want to make it.

Around three weeks ago, I wrote that if the Panthers dominated their opposition down the stretch, they would easily slide into a playoff spot:

"“The Panthers completely dominate their last 24 games, and easily slide into one of the top two wild card spots.”"

I guess the word “easily” no longer applies to their situation. Through 13 of the 24, the Panthers have indeed dominated so far. They’ve gone 9-3-1, and yet, for some reason, still find themselves on the outside looking in.

The Florida Panthers sit in a fairly good position right now. They control their own destiny for the last wildcard spot. Bottom line: can they keep up this unbelievable pace and book their 2nd postseason berth in 3 years? Only time will tell…